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Hannah's Choice: Saying No To A New Heart

First Posted: 12/14/08 05:12 AM ET Updated: 11/17/11 09:02 AM ET

Hannah

The story of a 13 year old British girl who is refusing a heart transplant because she'd already been through enough pain reminds me that when you're looking for the right answer, humility may be as essential as wisdom.

Hannah Jones's leukemia was diagnosed when she was four; she later developed heart disease, and has endured chemotherapy and nearly a dozen operations. This past summer, when doctors told her that without a heart transplant she'd be dead in six months, she refused to go through with it. "I've been in hospital too much - I've had too much trauma," she told the Guardian. She was not asserting a right to die; she was suggesting that she had a right to live on her own terms, and to decide whether the benefit was worth the cost.

No one was promising a cure: without a transplant her heart was sure to give out, but the operation could kill her, as could the complications that might follow. Anti-rejection drugs could reignite the leukemia; another transplant might be necessary in just a few years.

Her mother Kirsty was once an intensive care nurse, and had seen the ordeal up close. Hannah's parents decided that they needed to respect their daughter's wishes. "It was very emotional trying to reach the sort of decision you would never wish on your worst enemy," her father Andrew told reporters. "We were as low as it's possible to get, but I just didn't feel able to influence her. My wife and I agreed that whatever Hannah wanted, we would support her." She wanted to be at home, to play with her three younger brothers and sisters while she could. "It's hard, at 13, to know I'm going to die," Hannah said, "but I also know what's best for me."

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Filed by Verena von Pfetten  |