THERE IS no wholly satisfactory resolution to the heart-rending case of Rudy Linares, the young Chicago-area father who disconnected his irreversibly comatose infant son from a life-support system, cradling him in his arms until he died.
But Illinois criminal-justice authorities and a grand jury have resolved the terribly complicated and conflicting issues presented by the Linares case as adequately and humanely as possible under such difficult circumstances.
The hospital last year had rejected the Linares family's request to withdraw the life-support system from their son. To do so, the attorney for the hospital had said, could have exposed physicians to criminal liability. The infant had been in an irreversible coma since accidentally swallowing a balloon last August.
Then last month, the 23-year-old Linares, a house painter, disconnected his 15-month-old son from the respirator himself, cuddling the son in his arms, while holding a loaded revolver to keep others away.
No one can condone the taking of a life, and the legal issues of criminal liability cannot be dismissed. They are real and significant.
Yet Linares' act of desperation cannot be equated with murder, either. Nor does anyone doubt his explanation. "I did it," he said, "because I loved my son."
After a grand jury refused to indict him for murder, Linares pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a weapon. Circuit Judge Robert Bastone imposed a light sentence with no time in jail -- provided the young father undergoes psycho logical evaluation and any recommended counseling. "You have suffered enough," the judge said.
Indeed, the Cook County medical examiner, Dr. Robert J. Stein, has now reinforced the grand jury's decision by ruling that the child's death was, in fact, due to accidental causes.
Stein disagreed with hospital claims that the child had not been brain dead, saying that in his opinion death had occurred at the time of the accident and "the only thing you kept living was the organs."
Clearly, this tragedy leaves troubling consequences in its wake. It is unlikely to prove unique, either, in an era of advanced medical equipment and techniques. Thus, the medical, legal and ethical issues involved should be carefully examined in order to clarify appropriate decisions by hospitals, medical personnel and legal authorities in the future.
Illinois State's Attorney Cecil Partee wrestled with this case. "His action in removing his son from a respirator, while armed with a loaded revolver, were simultaneously inappropriate under the law yet understandable from the standpoint as a parent," Partee said.
Appropriately, then, Partee plans to organize a study of the issues presented by this case in order to clarify them and then introduce any legislative reforms that seem called for.
It is a study of issues -- a conflict of human and legal interests -- that ought to be examined outside Illinois as well. Not all the future Rudy Linares are likely to reside within Illinois borders.