If a respected British medical school has its way, British doctors will be routinely killing babies born with serious disabilities.
The Times of London reported in a page one story this weekend on the shocking proposal from Britain’s respected Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology.
The College has called on doctors to consider permitting infanticide in the case of seriously disabled newborn babies.
According to the paper, geneticists and medical ethicists supported the proposal -— as did the mother of a severely disabled child -— while a prominent children’s doctor described it as “social engineering.”
John Wyatt, consultant neonatologist at University College London hospital, told the Times: “Intentional killing is not part of medical care,” adding that “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, he told the Times, “it changes medicine into a form of social engineering where the aim is to maximize the benefit for society and minimize those who are perceived as worthless.”
And Simone Aspis of the British Council of Disabled People told the Times: “If we introduced euthanasia for certain conditions it would tell adults with those conditions that they were worth less than other members of society.”
Arguing that what it called “active euthanasia” — their euphemism for infanticide — should be considered for the overall good of families, to spare parents the emotional burden and financial hardship of bringing up the sickest babies, the college statement declared: “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.”
The college’s call that “active euthanasia” of newborns be considered came as part of an inquiry into the ethical issues raised by the policy of prolonging life in newborn babies by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
In response to the inquiry, the college stated: “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 Times reported, noting that now 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.
If doctors in the Netherlands –- where the Times observes mercy killing is permitted for a range of incurable conditions, including severe spina bifida and the painful skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa –- the question may be moot; they say that British doctors are already killing disabled babies.
Dr. Pieter Sauer, co-author of the Groningen Protocol, the Dutch national guidelines on euthanasia of newborns, told the Times that British pediatricians are already performing mercy killings, and says the practice should be done openly.
Sauer, head of the department of pediatrics at the University Medical Centre Groningen, told the Times: “In England they have exactly the same type of patients as we have here. English neonatologists gave me the indication that this is happening.”
As much was admitted by Dr Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, who told the Times he hastened the death of two severely handicapped newborn babies when he was a junior doctor in the 1970s. Speaking of the “pain, distress and discomfort” of severely handicapped babies he said: “I wouldn’t argue against this.”
Others coming out in favor of killing disabled babies were John Harris, a member of the government’s Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University and the mother of a baby born with a serious disability. Harris told the Times: “We can terminate for serious fetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn. 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?” he said, obviously referring to partial-birth abortion.
And 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.”