Saturday, November 11, 2006

Church of England Supporting Euthanasia?

The following is from the London Times, and strikes me as being a bit unfair in its coverage.

The Church of England has joined one of Britain’s royal medical colleges in calling for legal euthanasia of seriously disabled newborn babies.

Church leaders want doctors to be given the right to withhold treatment from seriously disabled newborn babies in exceptional circumstances.

Wait a cotton-picking minute; this article is making a misleading statement. Withholding treatment is not the same thing as euthanasia. If someone is dying or hopelessly injured, my understanding is that there is no absolute obligation to provide more than palliative treatment. (Someone correct me if I am wrong.) Had Terri Schiavo been on a ventilator, it could have been turned off. The outcry was not that she was allowed to die naturally, but that she was killed by the deliberate withholding of food and water.

Their call, overriding the presumption that life should be preserved at any cost, follows that of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology, revealed in The Sunday Times last week.

The church’s position was laid out in a submission to an independent inquiry, due to publish its report this week, into the ethical concerns surrounding the treatment of severely premature babies.

In the submission Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, states: “It may in some circumstances be right to choose to withhold or withdraw treatment, knowing it will possibly, probably, or even certainly result in death.”

The withdrawal of the treatment, however, is not for the purpose of causing death. There is a moral difference between not keeping someone alive and killing someone that has been acknowledged by the Church for quite some time - especially considering that the ability to keep someone alive is a pretty recent phenomenon.

The church’s submission does not say which medical conditions might justify the decision to allow babies to die. It argues that there are “strong proportionate reasons” for “overriding the presupposition that life should be maintained”.

It says it would support the withdrawal of treatment only if all reasonable alternatives had been considered, “so that the possible lethal act would only be performed with manifest reluctance”.

That doesn't sound to me like a new position or like one that diverges from the position of Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants.

In its proposal the college of obstetricians argued that “active euthanasia” should be considered for the overall good of families, to spare parents the emotional burden and financial stress of caring for desperately sick infants.

And that is a very different matter from withholding treatment.

The college said in its submission to the inquiry: “A very disabled child can mean a disabled family. If life-shortening and deliberate interventions to kill infants were available, they might have an impact on obstetric decision-making, even preventing some late abortions, as some parents would be more confident about continuing a pregnancy and taking a risk on outcome.”

Both submissions were made to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body that publishes guidelines for how the medical profession should deal with ethical questions such as euthanasia.

The council was set up nearly two years ago in order to consider the implications of advances that enable infants to be born half-way through pregnancy.

In the Netherlands babies born before 25 weeks are not given medical treatment in certain conditions.

The report, to be published on Thursday, is not expected to set an age limit as a criterion.

This whole thing is a follow-up to the suggestion that British doctors euthanise disabled babies (see previous post on this blog). I am not the obvious candidate to spring to the defense of the Bishops of the Church of England. They seem to have as many heretics per capita as the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church in Canada. In this case, however, The Times seems to be putting words into their mouths.