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Friday, December 22nd 2006

Your Body Should Be Your Own

Sounds like the title of a pro-choice post. This is about a man who has evidence against him, embedded in his body.

In the middle of Joshua Bush’s forehead, two inches above his eyes, lies the evidence that prosecutors say could send the teenager to prison for attempted murder: a 9 mm bullet, lodged just under the skin.

A judge took the unusual step of issuing a search warrant to retrieve the bullet from Bush’s head in October.

But a Beaumont doctor determined that small pieces of bone were growing around the slug, and he did not have the proper tools in the emergency room to do it. The doctor said that removal would require surgery under general anesthesia and that no operating rooms were available.

Police then obtained a second search warrant and scheduled the operation for last week at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital in Galveston. It was postponed again, however, after the hospital decided not to participate for reasons it would not discuss.

Grunt Doc seems to think the Beaumont doctor was finding an excuse not to violate his ethical standards without upsetting the police. Sounds reasonable, so the claim made in the piece that Bush may need to go under general anesthesia might be an exaggeration.

But if he would need to go under general, then this next line should raise an eyebrow:

All sides agree that removing the bullet would not be life-threatening.

In any case for the rights and ethics involved here that point matters little. This patient’s autonomy should trump the state’s desire/responsibility to prosecute crimes. End of story. No question.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, predicted Bush’s rights as a patient will trump the state’s desire to get the bullet, and said authorities might have a hard time finding someone willing to extract the slug.

“It truly is a moral quandary,” Caplan said. “Doctors are caught between wanting to help solve crimes and their responsibility to patients’ rights to refuse a procedure.”