Creating a Duty to Die
Baby Ryan Nguyen was born in Spokane's Sacred Heart Hospital on October 27, 1994. He was very premature, just twenty-three weeks gestation. Ryan's kidneys were not working well, so doctors put him on dialysis. But when the doctors determined that he was not a good candidate for kidney transplantation they decreed that continuing his treatment was futile. His father was told, "The time has come for your baby to die," and Ryan's dialysis was discontinued.
Ryan's parents vehemently objected and retained an attorney, who quickly obtained a temporary court order compelling doctors to continue his treatment. Unhappy that their will had been thwarted, hospital administrators reported Ryan's parents to Child Protective Services, accusing the Nguyens of "physical abuse" and "physical neglect" for obtaining the injunction. 1 When that tactic didn't fly, administrators and doctors fought the parents in court, swearing under oath that "Ryan's condition is universally fatal," that the infant had "no chance" for survival, and that treatment could not "serve as a bridge to future care." Based on these contentions, Ryan's doctors urged the judge to ignore the desires of Ryan's parents and permit them to cease his treatment, considering it futile and a violation of their integrity, values, and ethics. 2