NewsThu Nov 16, 2006 - 12:15 pm EST
Editorial: Why not Allow Euthanasia for Disabled Infants?- A Satire
By John-Henry Westen
Why not Allow Euthanasia for Disabled Infants?
LastÂweek doctors in the UK have asked permission to kill disabled infants.Â The proposal by Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology argues that the possibility of killing newborns after birth will reduce “late abortions”.
The proposal states, “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.”
In probably the most convincing argument to allow the practice, Manchester University Bioethics professor John Harris, said: “We can terminate for serious foetal 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 okay to kill the fetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?”
The statement is perfectly logical, and so is the argument.
The new method would solve the problem of false positives for genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome or harelip since these conditions can be verified upon visible inspection at birth.Â False positives at the time of in utero testing can lead to abortion of healthy fetuses due to suspicion based on markers which are not 100% accurate.
Would not the possibility of killing children shortly after birth allow parents the opportunity to see the child face to face prior to choosing abortion? Perhaps they would fall in love with the child and reconsider termination. Moreover, should they choose to go ahead with termination, the procedure would be less arduous for the mother and adequate painkillers and a more humane method of death could be administered to avoid undue pain for the post-birth fetus.
Since science is not yet able to test sufficiently for some of the most debilitating disorders in utero, the new method would allow for elimination of these as well.Â
However, certain disorders do not manifest until infancy or early childhood so the option for post-birth euthanasia should, in those limited cases, be open till later ages so as to deal with some of the most devastating mental illnesses that plague society.Â For instance severe autism and mental retardation, which cost not only families but society in general, are usually diagnosed within the first few years of life, rather than a few days after birth.
That being said, perhaps in certain extreme and very limited cases, said permission to euthanize should be retained for unbearable conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar manic-depressive disorders.Â Such disorders onset or become manifest during adolescence or early adulthood.
Since it is logical to extend euthanasia into adolescence or early adulthood should it not be there for those who later in life find themselves incapacitated and wanting an exit from a torturous existence?
We do not discriminate based on age, thus where incapacity or disorder create an unsustainable burden on society, we should be able to apply euthanasia to the elderly as well.
A model society on these fronts already exists.Â In Holland euthanasia for disabled infants was approved earlier this year.Â The Dutch began the practice of adult euthanasia in 2001.Â And lo and behold, the sky has not fallen in the Netherlands.
There is only one nagging voice left in this deliberation.Â Many years ago at the beginning of the abortion debate, there was talk of a “slippery slope” which would lead necessarily from abortion to devaluation of all life.
The argument went back to the most fundamental issues.Â It recalled that from it’s very beginning, life at the one celled stage differs fundamentally from adult life in only two respects - age and size.Â Allowed time to grow, embryos, fetuses, newborns, children and adolescents all become adults.
Let’s revisit what the bioethics professor at Manchester University asked: “What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it okay to kill the fetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?”
If human beings have an inalienable right to life, they have that right regardless of age and size.Â If they don’t have that right, neither size nor age should confer it upon them.
Further down the slippery slope, without a right to life, the ‘powers that be’ can decide to kill based on political expediency.Â Since involuntary euthanasia can be practiced on those who - by medical condition - become a financial burden on the state, why not involuntary ‘euthanasia’ on those who - by political incorrectness - are also burdens to the state.
It seems we must decide, either for an inalienable right to life from conception till natural death, or not.