The Cyclops Child: What Would You Have Done?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 06:38 AM

As a dad with five kids and someone who has had plenty of contact with doctors and hospitals — and as a man with a disability — the issues raised by our interview with Dr. Fredric Newman are powerful and deeply haunting.

His story of the Cyclops baby he encountered early in his medical career conveys the power of compassion against all odds and the power of doctors who can make decisions for people without their knowledge or consent.

This story pushes all the buttons. Dr. Neuman's life was clearly changed by this event and his sharing of the story, and the decisions and judgments made by Dr. Neuman and his colleagues will change you too.

This is a conversation you are going to want to be a part of. Listen and let us know how you would have resolved the "Cyclops Baby Parable." Perhaps you think it's simple, or (closer to Dr. Neuman's position), you think it is the kind of event that breaks down moral clarity and forces us to think of life and humanity in different ways, forces us to shed our notions of black and white.

I know I'm still thinking about it, as Dr. Neuman has for more than 50 years.

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Comments [4]

Daphne from Westchester

"In 2006, a baby was born with Cyclopia to a mother in India. While most of the infants born with this condition die within moments of birth, this baby lived beyond the 11th day. Some believed the infant was the physical manifestation of a God and worshipped both the infant and the parents"
That is certainly a different perspective. Looks like the parents were able to handle the news. Perhaps this families religious and moral fiber was stronger than that of the doctors. Concluding how others would feel and making judgements for them is wrong in any circumstance.

Jul. 19 2012 08:36 AM
Thorin Tritter from New York

I direct a medical ethics program called FASPE (Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics) that takes medical students to Europe where they study the actions of doctors during the Holocaust and then use that historical framework to consider difficult ethical cases like the one Dr. Newman described and think through what is the "right" response. Pediatric care, in particular, raises ethical issues because the patients cannot express their wishes. The axiom of "do no harm" is sometimes not enough guidance. Today, it sounds like the "Cyclops Baby" might well have fit under the Groningen Protocol for child euthanasia. This is another controversial topic, but one that helps students and doctors think through the ethical issues. Anyway, thanks for sharing this story.

Jul. 19 2012 07:43 AM
Renee McClean

Given the trauma the medical staff (Dr. Neuman) suffered, there is no question that the family of the child would have been unspeakably scarred for life. It seems the doctors came to an obvious conclusion that this was a hopeless situation which none of them could have alleviated due to the gross anatomical deficiencies of the child. It appears their hands were tied and no alternatives were presented. Dr. Neuman was in a most unenviable position but the consequence was that his humanity was uniquely shaped and his sensitivity was heightened. I'm sure all his patients benefitted. In the end, we all benefitted from hearing his story because the listener was forced to reexamine the concepts of justice and morality, as difficult as it was. At times it is a necessary exercise.

Jul. 18 2012 09:43 PM
Jene Nickford

The doctor did the right thing. This child had too many things wrong. The mother would have been traumatized if she had seen her baby. What would be the purpose of having the child live a few more days? Anyhow, they couldn't feed it, so they really didn't hasten it's death. The doctor was kind to the mother. He didn't gain anything by telling the mother it was born dead. In a way it really was!

Jul. 18 2012 05:29 PM

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