"Brain-Absent Newborn" Case Tips
Take your time when starting your first case. Do not assume that you should begin writing with the same processes and the same aims you used successfully in high school. Think about what I have been telling you about the relationship between scholarly academic writers and their best readers. Think about the deep, deep thought required for you to break through the obvious levels of ideas that the non-scholarly audience easily can reach without effort or time. Scholarly knowledge differs from ordinary "street" knowledge because of the kind of thinking and the length of thinking that produces it. Give yourself a chance to play with the case's basic facts from a number of points of view that are based on the "parties to the case" (Gabrielle, the "donor" infant, herself; her parents; Paul Holc, the "recipient" infant; Paul's parents; the doctors; etc.).
Write while you think. Sketch your ideas in short notes, or take a minute to free-write every once in a while. Give yourself a break at intervals, but do not leave your concentration behind as you stand up to stretch or to walk around the room. Let your mind have chunks of uninterrupted thought and keep extending how long you attempt to think, as if you were a runner trying to extend the length of your run in each succeeding day. Your mind can be made "stronger" in the same fashion by repeated exertion.
Keep in mind that you do not have to "solve" this case. I have used it since Gabrielle "donated" her heart in 1987, and the best minds in American medicine and law have not improved the plight of children born with life-threatening birth defects. Someday, stem-cell research and/or cloning might enable scientists to grow organs small enough to help them. For now, the only source of infant-sized replacement organs is another infant, and the basic choice remains to maximize both children's bodily integrity (i.e., each keeps his/her own organs) with the loss of both babies, or to maximize the number of surviving babies (i.e., the "savable one" gets what it needs from the one who cannot be saved) with the loss of the children's bodily integrity. Once you get past that, you will see there are many, many other problems associated with this case which you may be able to help us solve. Think about the other basic questions we ask about any topic in scholarly analysis, and let them help you unpack this case's hidden opportunities.
If you encounter technical problems, like understanding the vocabulary of medicine or the law, remember that there are acceptable web-based dictionaries of medical and legal terms. Links to those sites and other resources that may be helpful for this case are available on the research assistance page. Think about how I located them--can you find more? Be careful of their quality, but an astute researcher can significantly improve a paper's persuasive power with access to expert information and judgment.
Much has been written about this case, and far more is online now than there was in 1999 when I last used it. In 1994, NBC made a movie about the case and "Gabrielle"'s parents were identified (with their permission). Paul Holc (then 10) played a brief role in the movie. Depending on how you search, you even can find a community college student's "research paper" on this very topic, but beware, she is writing something very like what a high-school English course would consider a worthwhile "report." Look at her conclusion and you will see that, for all her evidence-gathering, she has arrived at no clear thesis. You must have a thesis, and you will find one by accepting a focus on smaller aspects of the case, rather than trying to write something "all about anencephalic infant organ donation." Avoid that trap and you're on the road to professional scholarship.