Richson: The right to 'play God'


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Amid a buzz of controversy, a brain-dead pregnant woman in Texas was finally taken off life support on Sunday in compliance with a court order. The order aligned with her husband’s wishes, despite the presence of a more than 20-week-old fetus. This factor in particular had anti-abortion activists up in arms, not withstanding that the fetus was not considered viable to be delivered alive.

Abortion and life support are both extremely complicated issues, of course. Medicine has the power and scope to in essence “play God,” but is this an abuse of such power or an over-extension of authority?

For those who stood in opposition to the woman being taken off life support, it seems that either ultimate decision could be construed as “playing God.” Machines may have kept her alive and her offspring continuing in gestation, but isn’t this also an unnatural measure of medicine’s power?

The issue is a slippery slope. If one views abortion or continuing life support as “playing God,” then do all manners of administrated medicine fall under this category? What can be dismissed as the benefits of modern science and what is considered crossing the line?

As someone who cannot speak to what I would definitively label my religious beliefs, I’m not in a position to say what to “play God” would even hypothetically entail. However, the marvel of medicine lies in its ability to save people who might otherwise die, but what if once they are saved they don’t have a conscious life ahead of them at all? Going forward without movement or brain function isn’t a life. And being born dead isn’t a birth.

Medicine might toy with what some call “fate,” but that ability is a manifestation of some sort of fate in itself.

The issue becomes even trickier when the concept of life support is looked at in terms of fundamentals; is care for the extremely elderly thus a form of life support as well? If you look at ending the life support of a pregnant woman as an artificial guiding of God’s hand, this thought sequence can be endlessly applied to the field of medicine to the point where it seems as though everything accomplished by treatment is not authentic fate.

I also cannot speak to whether abortion is right or wrong, as I hold the belief that a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body. However, in this particular case, the family had their own wishes in mind, and combined with the fact that the fetus was no longer viable, this should not be viewed through an abortion-rights lens. In this case, the family had to act with what they felt the woman would have viewed as the best-case scenario. This is not “playing God,” this is humanity for recognizing when a full life becomes not a life at all.

There will always be those who view the decision to be taken off life support as disturbing and heavy-handed, but the gravity of this decision is known only to those directly affected by the situation. What side of a hazy situation is more or less humane remains thoroughly subjective and relative.

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