Susan Anne Catherine Torres

This week, Susan Anne Catherine Torres was born.  Her birth has gotten a lot of attention because her mother died several months ago, of bleeding due to a previously undiagnosed brain tumor.  Her body has been kept on life support since, in order to give the fetus a chance to develop.  However, the cancer was spreading, so they were out of time.  The baby was born at a gestational age of 27 weeks, tiny, but with a good chance of survival.

Several feminist bloggers have been highly critical of this choice, while others have focused their ire on the tone of the media coverage.  I agree that the press has been a bit overwraught, but it’s probably asking to much to expect them to resist the combination of tear-jerker and science fiction.  And the Torres family sought publicity, in order to raise the funds needed for the medical bills. 

I basically see this choice as comparable to organ donation, or embryionic stem cell research.  Susan Torres was gone in May; I see only an affirmation of hope and life in the family’s choice to use her body in this way.  It’s just that we’re not used to having dead bodies be warm and with beating hearts. 

To the extent that I have any reservations about this story, it’s my usual issue that there’s something strange about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep one baby alive, when thousands of children are dying, in Niger and elsewhere, for lack of food, clean water, basic vitamins, and vaccines that cost pennies.  But that utilitarian framework is unrelenting and impossible to live up to.  Pretty much everything anyone in the US spends money on — from bottled water to luxury SUVs, from this Typepad account to my son’s asthma medication — is immoral if you weigh it in such a calculus. 

For what it’s worth, I basically agree with "Mrs. Coulter" that, under comparable circumstances, I’d probably want the same.  In fact, my living will includes the following statement:

"In spite of the above, I am willing to receive treatment under the following conditions:

  • If I am pregnant and life-prolonging procedures will result in a reasonable probability of the child being delivered viably and having an acceptable quality of life.
  • If keeping my body functioning is necessary to allow my organs to be transplanted. I do not wish to receive treatment for more than one week on this basis."

That’s not to say that I think this is the only reasonable choice.  Especially given how early in Torres’ pregnancy she collapsed, I could well imagine her husband making the decision that, under the circumstances, his living child (they have a 2-year-old as well) needed his full attention and emotional energy.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Torres family tonight.

2 Responses to “Susan Anne Catherine Torres”

  1. Mrs. Coulter Says:

    Hmm…when we made our living wills, I didn’t think of this (despite my rather clear statements to this effect online); Terri Schiavo was more on my mind. I will have to see about changing mine to take this into account.

  2. dave s Says:

    A friend of mine died recently, having held on and done painful chemotherapy – he had jacked up his insurance when he found out he had colon cancer, and his insurance company (to guard against exactly that) had a rule that increases in your payout would not be valid unless you lived a year after you raised your coverage. So he made it, and his kids have their college tuition, but his last couple of months were pretty grim.

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