Karen Ann by Joseph and Julia Quinlan with Phyllis Battelle (Proteus /5.75).
This is a fascinating book, weaving together a real-life drama with the application of important moral principles. The Quinlans are an ordinary American family living in Landing, New Jersey. In this book they tell a story of acute tragedy coupled with deep faith and marked humanity.
Their first and adopted daughter, Karen, who was by all accounts an unusual, extrovert, serious, intuitive, joyful young woman, suddenly went into a coma in 1975 for reasons that were never clearly established medically.
Her parents and family had to watch her waste physically, become a contorted shadow of her normal self and remain in this state month after month in what became clear was a hopeless prognosis of any effective recovery. There was irreversible damage to the brain, and brain cells, once destroyed, do not recover. She needed artificial maintenance of her life and particularly artificial respiration.
After watching her hopeless fight for some months, her mother and then her father decided that the artificial respiration had to cease, even if that meant her death. The book records carefully and accurately the agony of this decision, which was taken on moral grounds.
The parents, who were devout Catholics, were utterly convinced this was the will of God, and their parish priest agreed. The Catholic Church. does not support the use of extraordinary means of prolonging life whcn ultimate recovery appears most unlikely.
At first the doctors were inclined to agree but, as the legal implications impinged on them, they refused. The family, with the help of a dedicated lawyer, had now to fight legally for the right to ask the doctors to withdraw artificial respiration.
The detailed records of this historic legal battle are adequately described and the reader is very close to the tribulations of this family who, while fighting the pain over the predicament of their child, now became involved with the media and then virtually the whole world.
After losing one round, they won the next and secured the right to cease artificial respire
tion. The irony of the story is that when the doctors removed the artificial respiration, which they had refused to do, normal breathing took over and death did not follow although clearly survival was not expected for very long.
In these days. when medicine has an extraordinary range of specialised means of keeping hopelessly ill patients alive, this book reminds us in a most moving manner that people should live and die with dignity and love, knowing that God, who is Love, has ensured a resurrection. With such faith, there is no point in a hopeless extension of life.
The Church, which insists that life, which is God-given, should be treated with the utmost regard when it has meaning and purpose, equally supports its conclusion when medicine attempts to usurp the Creator's timetable.