Seminars and Panels

The Decision to Put David Vetter in the Bubble

Dr. James H. Jones

Apr 16, 2014
11:00 A.M. - 12:30 P.M.
232 Philip G. Hoffman Hall

David Vetter (1971-1984) was born with severe combined immune deficiency (SCID), a rare genetic disease that compromises or destroys the immune systems of its victims, leaving them with little or no protection from germs and viruses. Nearly all children who suffer from this disease do not survive for more than a few years. David Vetter lived to be 12 years old, and his amazing survival was hailed as a miracle of modern science. Moments after his birth at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, he was placed in an isolator designed to maintain a germ free environment. The press quickly learned about David and news coverage of the "bubble boy" brought David's story to the world. There is no question that placing David in "the bubble" saved his life, but in the years that followed, the clinicians and medical scientists who cared for David were unable to find a cure for his disease. Nor were they able to devise an exit strategy for freeing him from isolation. As a result, David Vetter spent all but a few days of his life trapped inside his "bubble," unable to touch or be touched by other human beings. Sadly, the few days he was able to escape the isolator came when he was dying and too ill to enjoy his newfound freedom. The "bubble" that kept David alive became his prison, and over time his physical and emotional isolation took a heavy emotional toll on David.

Professor James H. Jones approaches this story as an important case study in human experimentation on children, and he will analyze the complicated decision to place David Vetter in the isolator, with special attention to the ethical issues that were inherent in this decision. Read more...