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john doe

March 9, 2009

You might recall that my not-so-little Bear was in elementary school in the United States and that our trip across the ocean landed him right into middle school. I was not sure how this new world would be for Bear. So far, so good.

Some things are certainly different – Bear has now been to a dance (and actually danced) and to a middle school party (and danced again). He is enjoying his journey. There are a lot of activities he misses and he misses his dear friends terribly – but he has made some good friends here and he is having a good time.

One of the things I did not expect was the stepped up homework. Not the volume necessarily, but the complexity. And I don’t mean harder – just more thoughtful.

The very first assignment Bear got was to write paper on John Doe. A paper that involved medical ethics. Excuse me – did you know that he’s 11. I took a biomedical ethics class in college. I loved it, but I was 21 at the time. That’s not exactly 11.

So, we read the scenario – it’s basically this. John Doe is a young man (20, I think) who has been in a terrible car accident. He is on a ventilator and is showing no improvement. His hair grows and his fingernails grow, but he is not responsive to voices or other stimulation. He is on a feeding tube. The insurance company will no longer pay for his medical treatment. He has been in a coma for 3 months. Your job is to advise his parents what to do in five paragraphs.

Okay, in five decades, I could not come up with the right words to advise his parents what to do – what do you mean 5 paragraphs? And do you understand that Bear is our oldest and we have not talked to him about any of this stuff yet, and we still have jet lag. And, remember, he is 11. Welcome to India.

I want to start by saying that I love the kids new school. We were thrilled with our school in the U.S. and I was wondering if our new school could possibly measure up. It has. It is really, really great – there is a lot of focus on creative thinking – not so much on memorizing facts. It’s taking in information and analyzing it. More of a swallowing it whole and letting it become a part of you than a “repeat what I just said” focus on learning. But did I mention, he is 11? Did I mention we still had jet lag? Can I find out where to buy goldfish crackers before I have to tackle medical ethics? Please?

So, before he can even start writing a paper, we have to talk about this. Just in case you have forgotten, let me remind you that Bear is a pretty logical thinker. That is, unless it comes to pulling the plug on a young man in a coma whose fingernails are still growing. Then apparently he becomes a big old softy. And, yes I love that about him. But it was hard to see his eyes melt away when I said he should at least consider taking John Doe off of life support. He looked at me and seemed to think, “but what would you do it if was me”? Dagger. I hear America calling – the land of the goldfish crackers that are easy to find.

How do you explain to your child that it makes you want to throw up to even consider that you could ever have to make this kind of decision about him – but that sometimes there are actually practical matters involved in these decisions. How do you define ethics – when your child thinks in black and white and there are nothing but grey answers available? Can we say role reversal? Me – the full fledged Pisces and sentimental sap explaining to the boy who wants to solve pi why it might make sense to not let John Doe “live”. And that same boy explaining to me that John Doe is still alive. Well, let’s talk about quality of life and cost of care and when are we going home again?

I told him ethics is when your brain meets your heart and they don’t always agree. If fact, they are bound to disagree because matters of the heart are rarely logical. And there are never any right answers. Math won’t usually help here – it is certainly not an exact science, if it is even a science at all. But how do you explain to those big brown eyes that what you can so clearly see that someone else should do might not be what you would do at all? Holy parenting, Batman. He decided John Doe’s parents should have a fundraiser to pay to keep him on the ventilator. I think this bodes well for number one hubby and me in our later years.

The final part of this assignment was a debate in the class. I would have loved to have seen that. The teacher was very careful to explain to the students that there were sure to be a lot of different view points and that everyone’s opinion had to be respected. That’s cool.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2009 12:51 am

    Loco – you must come across some of these interesting topics of discussion – it’s hard to know who is ready for what when! Sometimes it’s just the parent who is not ready!

  2. March 16, 2009 12:09 am

    That’s some education system they’ve got over there. I love your explanation of what ethics are: “told him ethics is when your brain meets your heart and they don’t always agree. If fact, they are bound to disagree because matters of the heart are rarely logical.” Never thought of it in just that way before…(-:

  3. March 12, 2009 12:55 am

    Deep – surprisingly it was more traumatic for me than Bear. 😎

    CanIRemain – it was so interesting because we have talked about death but not a choice about death and what constitutes life – that is a whole new level. I will check out your links. THanks for sharing! And yes, we celebrated Holi – it was a blast – check out Holy Holi and you can see our experience.

  4. CanIRemainUnknownPl permalink
    March 11, 2009 9:02 pm

    WoW!! not sure at what age the concept of death should be introduced to the kids but a question like this can be tough even for the most mature minds. You did a great job and I am sure he learnt a lot more than just medical ethics. Your post challenged me to ask the same question to myself, but unlike you I just googled it and landed at this interesting article

    For a previous post about your hubby loosing weight, I guess he doesn’t get this stuff anymore

    Did you or kids played holi? I am looking forward to hearing your experience.

  5. March 11, 2009 2:36 am

    What a traumatizing assignment!!! For an 11 year old!!!??? Yikes!!!

  6. March 10, 2009 9:29 pm

    Oma – his eyes melted – it was awful.

    Lola – it was actually a good assignment – I would have never thought it would be appropriate for him because he is really a sweetheart and we just have never talked about stuff like that with him – but he handled it all very well and had some good insights. Just one more baby step in this huge adventure!

  7. March 10, 2009 8:26 pm

    Yikes! I don’t even know what to say about that type of assignment for an 11 year old. Glad I’m here in the states where they teach to the stupid test and take up precious time finding 20 ways to answer the most simple math equation.

    I like his answer though!

  8. Oma permalink
    March 10, 2009 1:48 pm

    I can just see those big brown eyes turning sad. Tough question for a 11 year old or anyone for that matter.

    Fund raising for a cause sounds just like him.
    I am proud of him and you…you did a good girlfriend.



  9. March 10, 2009 10:58 am

    Settlers – didn’t mean to worry you – this was a case study that was presented to the class – it was an actual case and oddly enough it was the teacher’s cousin. but it happened some time ago and the boy died on his own from a heart attack (the teacher told the students this after the paper and debate).

    Tottsmom – tortoises can be troubling enough!

    Girlsmom – no nightmares – and Bear can be nightmare prone – all in all it was a wonderful experience to be able to talk to him as a thinker/young adult – I just did not think it would happen so soon – and his creative thinking is definitely blooming here.

  10. Girlsmom permalink
    March 10, 2009 10:27 am

    I may pose this question to my eleven year old just to see.
    We attended a book group here at the library (in the states) and my concrete thinker could not get out of the box. It frustrated me when many of the more ethnic–(read Asian) children answered the ethical questions so thoughtfully and she just stared blankly. I guess we often just want to protect our children, is it stifling their creativity???? PS–any nightmares?

  11. Tottsmom permalink
    March 10, 2009 10:01 am

    Amazing, my 6th grader is having enough trouble writing about Galapoagos Tortoises. My oratory on this topic would be longer than your post, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut. This time:)

  12. March 10, 2009 9:29 am

    Oh god….which school does he go to? Can you tell?

  13. March 10, 2009 9:19 am

    Badass – it is impossible. All of it – math and ethics.

    Rhonda – I had no idea. Wow – what a nightmare for you and for his family. I have decided that there are no right decisions, really – just the least wrong ones. I am sorry that you had that experience in your life.

  14. Rhonda P permalink
    March 10, 2009 8:56 am

    WOW!!!! That’s tough! I don’t know if I could even make that decision…..much less at being 11 years of age! I think I started to get the lump in my throat when reading his hair and fingernails were still growing!
    I was in a situation like that when a fiance of mine was accidentally shot while hunting, and was in a coma. His parents made the decision to remove him from life support, and it was the hardest thing for me…..I didn’t understand it at the age of 20, how someone, much less parents, could do that…..but I was thinking from my heart, and looking back now, it was the right decision. He was brain dead, and his quality of life would’ve been non-existent! Needless to say, I’m still glad they had to make the decision and not me!

    It melted my heart reading about bear’s soft heart!

  15. March 10, 2009 6:49 am

    I don’t know even I could do that, either. Mental math is still a challenge for me.

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