"Miracle" stories can double as cautionary talesCOLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL
Zach Dunlap doesn't remember the four-wheeler crash that landed him on life support in a Texas hospital last fall. But he does remember hearing a doctor pronounce him dead.
Fortunately for Dunlap, a perceptive cousin noticed Dunlap jerking his arm and foot in response to pain just minutes before a medical team was to begin harvesting his organs. A doctor then verified that Dunlap's movements were more than mere reflexes. Four months later, Dunlap is walking, talking and making the media rounds to tell a story that his family considers miraculous.
Such miracles seem to be happening a lot lately. Consider the case of Yvonne Sullivan, the 28-year-old British woman who had languished in a coma for two weeks in 2007 when doctors suggested that it was time to remove life support. Sullivan's husband responded by hollering at his wife to "stop mucking around and start breathing." Within two hours, she did. Now recovered, Sullivan remembers her husband's diatribe as the catalyst for a comeback that she says her doctors told her "must be a miracle."
Then there is the story of Raleane Kupferschmidt, a 65-year-old Minnesota woman who was taken off life support in January after a massive cerebral hemorrhage left no signs of brain activity. Sent home to die by doctors who said she never would awaken, Kupferschmidt shocked her daughter by mouthing "yes" when asked, " Mom, are you in there?" Family members returned Kupferschmidt to the hospital. She now is walking and talking and has a second lease on life.
Although heartwarming, these accounts raise troubling questions. Are such nick-of-time recoveries evidence of a rash of medical miracles? Or are they proof of medical judgments made too rashly?
The courts were not so kind to Haleigh Poutre, a Massachusetts child-abuse victim who narrowly escaped death after a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state led her state custodians to seek the removal of her ventilator and feeding tubes in 2005. Poutre recovered before her court-ordered starvation could take place. Hailed as "a miracle child," Poutre now attends school and communicates well enough that she may testify against her alleged abuser.
Colleen Carroll Campbell. "'Miracle' stories can double as cautionary tales." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (April 3, 2008).
Reprinted with permission of the author, Colleen Carroll Campbell.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television and radio host and St. Louis-based fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes for a wide variety of national publications, speaks to audiences across America, and hosts her own television show, "Faith & Culture," on EWTN, the world's largest religious media network. Her website is here.
Copyright © 2008 Colleen Carroll Campbell
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