Baby Joseph, son of Moe Maraachli and Sana Nader of Windsor, is one year old and suffering from a undiagnosed neurological disorder that impairs his breathing. He was put under the care of the London Health Sciences Centre and is staying alive with the help of a respirator. LHSC officials said that Joseph is in a vegetative state and will not recover. In light of this, the hospital had opted to take Joseph off life support, even though the parents insisted that Joseph be given a tracheotomy to allow the child to breathe on its own. This would allow them to take Joseph home to die in the comfort of his family instead of choking to death after the respirator is removed. Eight years ago, the parents were able to take their daughter (who suffered from a similar condition) home to die after a tracheotomy was performed.
In January, the Consent and Capacity Board of Ontario agreed with the judgement of the hospital and determined a date for the respirator to be removed. The family, in response, appealed to the Superior Court. On Feb. 17, Justice Helen Rady sided with the hospital and the date when Joseph was to be taken off life support was set to Feb. 21. With the help of Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the family was able to secure the services of expert lawyer Mark Handelman.
Handelman argued that Justice Rady’s decision did not permit the hospital to remove the tube, but only let doctors urge the parents to consent to it – a fact the couple’s previous lawyer hired through Legal Aid failed to point out. In response, the London Health Sciences Centre asked Ontario’s Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee to demand the removal of Joseph’s life support.
After appeals from the couple and their supporters to American hospitals, the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit said on Feb. 20 that they might take the child. Yet, the hospital reversed its decision soon after. Even so, the London hospital where Joseph is being kept had not made it clear whether they would permit the transfer of the baby. During this time, the family was not allowed to have private visits with Joseph and was closely monitored by a security guard while in the room.
The parents were also not allowed to take videos of the baby. Yet, videos had surfaced Feb. 20 on the internet site, YouTube, showing Joseph flailing and reacting to tickling. “How could a supposedly persistent vegetative state child have so many occasions of purposeful neuromuscular movements of yanking out their uncomfortable air tube, so many times that hospital staff would have to tie his hands to prevent further episodes?” a spokesperson for the family told LifeSiteNews.
In early March, the family hired a new lawyer, Claudio Martini, who prepared an appeal of Justice Rady’s decision supporting the London doctors. Martini was going to argue, contrary to doctors’ claims, that Joseph was not in a permanent vegetative state, as demonstrated in the YouTube footage.
The story of Baby Joseph garnered significant attention in Canada, with plenty of coverage in the London Free Press, the National Post and other media outlets. It has also been covered extensively by Fox News in the United States and the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom. “As a father – and a human being– I would fight until my last breath to give my son a fighting chance,” wrote Fox News medical contributor Dr. Manny Alvarez on the station’s web site. He hoped that Canadian doctors “will remember, when it comes to the life of a child, parents know no limits, and we must offer options for closure and comfort, and perhaps maybe even a miracle.” Joseph’s case also attracted the attention of US pro-life groups, including Priests for Life, the Christian Defence Coalition, and the Terri Schiavo Hope Network. Fr. Frank Pavone of the U.S.-based Priests for Life said he would attempt to bring Joseph to the United States for care, on his own expense if necessary.
On March 14, baby Joseph was airlifted to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri, where a tracheotomy was performed. The intention was to place Joseph in the care of a skilled nursing facility after the surgery. The airlift to the hospital, American medical expenses, and family accommodation was organized and paid for by Priests for Life.
Alex Schadenberg told The Interim that the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition got involved in the case because of the precedent it sets in “dealing with who has the right to decide.” Unlike most other situations heard in the media, this is “not about a futile case where a family is asking for medical treatment” to try to remedy a hopeless illness, he explained. Instead, the family made a reasonable request in wanting to bring the child home to die. If this sets a precedent, people would “have to go to a court (to get a) reasonable amount of care” – something that costs thousands of dollars. The “family then loses a right to make (reasonable) medical decisions.”
Schadenberg worried about the imperiousness of doctors imposes their will on patients rather than working to an agreement about medical treatments.