Monday, November 06, 2006

Is Euthanizing Babies on the Way in England?

The following article is from The Australian.
One of Britain's leading medical colleges is calling on the health profession to consider permitting the euthanasia of seriously disabled newborn babies.

The proposal by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology is a response to the number of such children surviving because of medical advances.

The college is arguing that "active euthanasia" should be considered for the overall good of families, and to spare parents the emotional burden and financial hardship of bringing up the hardest-hit babies.

"A very disabled child can mean a disabled family," the doctors say.

"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."

Translation: people might not have abortions as long as they can kill the kid at a later date.

Geneticists and medical ethicists supported the proposal - as did the mother of a severely disabled child - but a prominent children's doctor described it as social engineering.

The college called for active euthanasia of newborns to be considered as part of an inquiry into the ethical issues raised by the policy of prolonging life in newborn babies. The inquiry is being carried out by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

The proposal does not spell out which conditions might justify euthanasia, but in The Netherlands mercy killing is permitted for babies with a range of incurable conditions, including severe spina bifida and the painful skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa.

Pieter Sauer, co-author of the Groningen Protocol, the Dutch national guidelines on euthanasia of newborns, claims British pediatricians unofficially perform mercy killings, and says the practice should be open.

"In England they have exactly the same type of patients as we have here," Dr Sauer said. "English neonatologists gave me the indication this is happening in their country."

Although euthanasia for severely handicapped newborn babies would be contentious, some British doctors and ethicists are now in favour.

The professor of human genetics at University College London, Joy Delhanty, said: "I would support these views. I think it is morally wrong to strive to keep alive babies that are then going to suffer many months or years of very ill health."

Does that mean it is morally wrong to strive to keep alive adults that are going to suffer many months or years of very ill health? If not, why not?

The college's submission was welcomed by John Harris, a member of the Government's Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University.

"We can terminate for serious fetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn," he said. "What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it OK to kill the fetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?"

Funny, that is exactly the argument a lot of pro-life people have made. When I've brought up the possibility that abortion could lead to euthanasia, I have personally been told, “Don’t be ridiculous! That won’t happen!” However, it is a completely valid argument and there is no logical reason to differentiate. And once that has been admitted, then there is no rational reason to limit killing to newborns. If it’s okay to kill someone 30 minutes after birth, then why not 30 days? Or 30 weeks? Or 30 years?

Edna Kennedy of Newcastle upon Tyne, whose son suffered epidermolysis bullosa, said: "In extremely controlled circumstances, where the baby is really suffering, it should be an option for the mother."

However, John Wyatt, consultant neonatologist at University College London hospital, said:
"Intentional killing is not part of medical care."

Indeed! In case anyone has forgotten the Hippocratic Oath, it states, among other things:

I swear by Apollo the physician ... I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion... While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!

I have often heard arguments for euthanasia couched in terms of the battlefield. If you came across some guy who had been gut shot, wasn’t going to make it, and had no hope of a medic coming around to ease his pain, wouldn’t you put him out of his misery? The answer, of course, is, “Yeah, I might.” And any witnesses to the act would likely choose to not report it. But (a) I wouldn’t expect the medics to go around shooting the wounded instead of treating them, (b) I wouldn’t expect the army to formally advocate such actions, and (c) I’d feel compelled to tell a priest and seek absolution. There are actions that we realize are intrinsically wrong which we overlook as a consequence of living in a fallen world. However, we know deep inside ourselves that those actions reflect something deeply wrong with both the world and ourselves, and we feel a sense of shame. When we have cast aside the shame and embraced those same acts as good, we have lost a large part of that sense of wrongness which makes us salvageable. Most of us don’t grimly follow ugliness and corruption into the flames of hell; instead, we walk shiny and smiling into the pit, wrapped in a cloud of painless niceness. Satan, after all, is the most beautiful and splendid of all the angels – an appropriate god for the brave new world.