Church of England Does Not Support Infant Euthanasia

By Gudrun Schultz

LONDON, United Kingdom, November 13, 2006 ( - The Church of England’s decision to support a policy of withholding or withdrawing medical treatment from very premature or disabled newborns was not a statement of support for infant euthanasia, pro-life leaders have clarified, after media reports, notably The Sunday Times- Britain, said the church was calling for legal euthanasia.

In a statement made to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics inquiry into treatment of premature babies, the Rt. Rev. Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark and vice chair of public affairs of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, wrote, “t may in some circumstances be right to choose to withhold or withdraw treatment, knowing it will possibly, probably, or even certainly result in death.”

Although the church could not accept the argument that the life of any baby was not worth living, the submission stated, the church nonetheless felt there were “strong proportionate reasons” for “overriding the presupposition that life should be maintained” at all cost.

“There may be occasions where, for a Christian, compassion will override the ‘rule’ that life should inevitably be preserved.”Â

Wesley J. Smith, U.S. lawyer and leading opponent to the international pro-euthanasia movement, said inaccurate media coverage of the church’s statement implied the church was supporting euthanasia, when in fact “it appears that the Church has ratified the right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment in some circumstances, which is a different matter altogether.”

Dr. Peter Saunders, general secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship, explained the difference between withholding treatment and euthanasia, in an interview with The Guardian Nov. 12, “If it’s an underlying condition that’s causing the death and you’re withholding the treatment because you believe that the treatment’s burden far outweighs any benefit it can bring, then it might be quite appropriate.”

“There’s a point in medicine where we say enough is enough, and sometimes the treatment can be worse than the disease. And in those cases it is good medical judgment to withhold.”

Mr. Smith criticized media coverage for contributing to public confusion on the issue by failing to make an accurate distinction between euthanasia and the withholding of life-sustaining treatment.

“As we have seen so many times in the embryonic stem cell/cloning controversy, it is crucial for the media to keep the terms and definitions straight when discussing ethically contentious issues,” he wrote on his blogsite (See: “Proper moral analysis requires people to draw crucial distinctions. This cannot possibly be done without accurate and clear information, the providing of which is part of the essential role media play in democratic societies.”

Attempting to place careful limits on the circumstances where treatment withdrawal would be acceptable, the Church of England said it would only support the decision in situations where all other alternatives had been fully exhausted, “so that the possibly lethal act would only be performed with manifest reluctance.”

However, the church said the cost of care, potential parental burden and the price of the future education of the child should be considered in evaluating refusal-of-treatment to severely disabled newborns.

“Great caution should be exercised in bringing questions of cost into the equation when considering what treatment might be provided,” wrote Butler. “The principle of justice inevitable means that the potential cost of treatment itself, the longer term costs of healthcare and education and opportunity cost to the NHS in terms of saving other lives have to be considered.”

The church’s submission asks parents and doctors to recognize the limits of medical science, saying, “The principle of humility asks that members of the medical profession restrain themselves from claiming greater powers to heal than they can deliver.”

“It asks that parents restrain themselves from demanding the impossible from the medical profession and indeed from themselves and their own capacity to cope.”

The Church of England statement comes one week after Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists called for open debate on legalizing euthanasia for severely disabled newborn babies, in a submission to the Nuffield inquiry.

The Nuffield Council will release its report on Thursday.

See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

UK Docs: “Active Euthanasia” on Disabled Newborns Will Cut Abortion Rates

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