This can’t be repeated enough: “Intentional killing is not part of medical care.”
And that’s why I started LifeEthics, hoping to motivate other doctors, scientists and citizens to take their place in public conversations and especially in policy making for our professional associations and governments.
From articles in the online versions of the UK’s papers such as The Times and The Independent (Edit – Contrary to what I remembered, The Times did cover the derivation of liver tissue from umbilical cord cells), we learn that once again, human life and the notion of rights is endangered. This time, it’s the Royal Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of the UK that’s calling for the killing of newborn children who have disabilities.
What the news articles do not report is that the RSOG’s main argument is against the Bioethics Council’s apparent “revisiting” of the rightness of abortion. It appears that once again the discussion about what to do in the face of increased technology (“bioethics”) has devolved into a discussion about who we will kill, widening the classes that are not protected.
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 college’s submission to the inquiry states: “We would like the working party to think more radically about non-resuscitation, withdrawal of treatment decisions, the best interests test and active euthanasia as they are ways of widening the management options available to the sickest of newborns.”
Initially, the inquiry did not address euthanasia of newborns as this is illegal in Britain. The college has succeeded in having it considered. Although it says it is not formally calling for active euthanasia to be introduced, it wants the mercy killing of newborn babies to be debated by society.
Thankfully, some are willing to stand and declare what I believe is the truth, that only a minority of doctors support euthanasia:
However, John Wyatt, consultant neonatologist at University College London hospital, said: “Intentional killing is not part of medical care.” He added: “The majority of doctors and health professionals believe that once you introduce the possibility of intentional killing into medical practice you change the fundamental nature of medicine. It immediately becomes a subjective decision as to whose life is worthwhile.”
If a doctor can decide whether a life is worth living, “it changes medicine into a form of social engineering where the aim is to maximise the benefit for society and minimise those who are perceived as worthless”.
Simone Aspis of the British Council of Disabled People said: “If we introduced euthanasia for certain conditions it would tell adults with those conditions that they were worth less than other members of society.”
Actually, what it teaches is the view that some humans are not human enough to be protected by society from those who would kill them. As with so much of human history, if those with the physical or political power can decide to kill some of the humans they find inconvenient, too much work, or “disabling,” then the very notion of “right to life” is questioned. Out of the right not to be intentionally killed – and the expectation that the people, courts, and guns of government will enforce that right – who has liberty?
If your body can be killed, your mind is already stunted, your property is on loan from whoever has the might to kill you. Because never in history have people been content to stop with deeming one class of people as less than human-enough.
Even this story shows that doctors from the Netherlands – the nation that began with killing patients who were about to die, then moved on to those not dying fast enough and then on to killing “defective” infants in the “Groningen Protocol” – has moved across international borders to advocate the practice:
Dr Pieter Sauer, co-author of the Groningen Protocol, the guidelines governing infant euthanasia in the Netherlands, said British medics already carry out mercy killings and should be allowed to do so in the open. “English neonatologists gave me the indication that this is happening.”
Or, one more iteration of the “they’re doing it anyway, so it might as well be safe and legal” that we always hear to justify abortion and embryo destruction for research. But, in case this last point was not clear enough:
It says “active euthanasia” should be considered for the overall benefit of families who would otherwise suffer years of emotional and financial suffering.
Deliberate action to end infants’ lives may also reduce the number of late abortions, since it would allow women the chance to decide whether their disabled child should live.
“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,” the college writes in a submission to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
“We would like the working party to think more radically about non-resuscitation, withdrawal of treatment decisions, the best interests test, and active euthanasia, as they are ways of widening the management options available to the sickest of newborns.”
Such mercy killings are already allowed in the Netherlands for incurable conditions such as severe spina bifida. John Harris, a member of the official Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University, welcomed the college’s submission. “We can terminate for serious foetal abnormality up to term, but cannot kill a newborn,” he told The Sunday Times. “What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it OK to kill the foetus at one end of the birth canal but not the other?”