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Parents Ask Hospital To Let Baby Die ‘in Peace’

January 7, 1986

BOSTON (AP) _ Three months ago, Lynn and Jack Bellingham thought they would do anything to save their deformed newborn son Ricky.

But after approving 13 surgical procedures at a cost of $1 million, the couple is now preparing to go to court to demand that Children’s Hospital relinquish control of the infant and let him ″die in peace, not pain.″

″Enough is enough,″ said Mrs. Bellingham, 26. ″My question to the hospital is, ‘What do they consider life?’ The baby has a right to be at peace like any other human being.″

Ricky has been in intensive care since his birth Sept. 24, five weeks premature. He has a deformed esophagus and trachea, a liver infection, internal bleeding, blot clotting problems, an enlarged gall bladder and a hernia. He is sedated with morphine, connected to an artificial respirator and fed through a tube to his stomach.

Doctors told the Bellinghams their son would need at least two more operations in the near future, and that his prognosis was uncertain.

″Because of the infections, he has a decreased brain capacity, but we don’t know how much,″ said Mrs. Bellingham.

Last week, the couple asked the hospital not to perform any further surgery and to remove intravenous feeding tubes. Mrs. Bellingham said the hospital told her it was considering a court petition to gain custody of the boy in order to continue medical treatment.

″We said, ‘No surgery,’ and the hospital told us to get a lawyer,″ she added. ″We will fight it. It’s a matter of principle. We had a right to bring a child into the world, and no one should have the right to tell us what’s best.″

The Bellinghams said they are ready to file suit against the hospital as soon as it orders more surgery.

Hospital officials refuse to discuss the case, citing the infant’s right to privacy, but spokeswoman Nancy Collins said Tuesday that, in general, doctors make every effort to preserve life, even when hope is sparse.

″We do not make decisions to preserve or terminate life based on social, economic or lifestyle reasons,″ Ms. Collins said. ″It is hard to know when to stop treating a patient because in some cases, especially in pediatrics, things change for the better.″

Ms. Collins said the hospital tries to follow the wishes of parents whose children are terminally ill, but that if doctors believe a child can be saved the hospital will petition a court for custody or emergency permission to continue medical treatment.

Mrs. Bellingham, who has two young children from a previous marriage, lives in suburban Marshfield with her husband, a 40-year-old construction worker.

″In the beginning, we went along with everything the hospital wanted to do,″ she said. ″We wanted this baby. It is my husband’s first son.″

But she said they decided that the baby should be allowed to die when ″we saw there was no hope for recovery.″

″He has a lot of problems, and we’re talking about major problems,″ she added. ″Even if he survives, there is no chance he would be normal. The baby should be allowed to die in peace, not pain.

″The bills are just sitting here in a pile. At this point insurance has run out. But this isn’t a matter of money.″

Legal and ethics experts interviewed Tuesday said such cases are becoming more common as medical technology makes it possible to prolong the lives of sick infants.

″The real question is, what is customary and reasonable medical care and then, what’s in this child’s best interest from the child’s perspective,″ said George J. Annas, a professor of health law at Boston University. ″The question is, is this child better off dead than being treated this way?

″These are difficult question. You can’t say it’s black or white.″

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