The Baby Fae Case Essay

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The Baby Fae Case

The issues surrounding the Baby Fae case raised some important questions concerning medical ethics. Questions were raised regarding human experimentation (especially experimentation in children), risk/benefit ratio, the quality of informed consent, and surrogate decision-making. Primarily, this case showed that new guidelines were needed to regulate radical procedures that offer little hope and high notoriety and recognition of the physician performing them. Dr. Bailey had been doing extensive research for years on xenografts, or cross-species transplantations, yet none of his animal recipients had survived over 6 months.16 His research was neither governmentally funded nor available for peer-review, and
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California’s Protection of Human Subjects in Medical Experimentation Act requires that certain criteria be met when a surrogate gives informed consent, and there were weaknesses in the consent procedure provided in Baby Fae’s case. Were the surrogate decision makers adequately informed of different options and were they correctly told what the actual chance of success from the xenograft would be? Also, the Secretary of Health and Human Services did not give permission for this unprecedented procedure.16 In this case, medical ethics were deemed less important than the prestige and notoriety gained if the experiment had somehow worked.

As soon as news of Baby Fae’s transplantation surfaced, experts in the field expressed sharply polarized opinions regarding Bailey’s professional conduct. Those who endorsed Bailey and his decision believed that the surgery had the potential to prolong Baby Fae’s life until a donor heart could be found. Among these are Michael DeBakey, a pioneer in surgical heart repairs, and William DeVries, the surgeon who performed the first artificial heart implantation.15

However, Bailey did have his fair share of critics. One of the more direct attacks came from John Najarian, head of the Transplant Service at the University of Miami, who
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