Those opposed to euthanasia have long warned about the slippery slope involved in its legalisation. Today the hard cases of the terminally ill; tomorrow, anyone deemed unworthy of living. The boundaries continue to be pushed, and those considered to be legitimate candidates of euthanasia continue to be multiplied.
It is problematic enough when euthanasia lobby groups push for cradle to grave euthanasia rights, but when the medical profession makes similar calls, we have entered a perilous new world. Consider the case of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (RCOG) in the UK which has actually proposed killing disabled infants as a medical option.
Here is what it suggests: “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 term abortions, as some parents would be more confident about continuing a pregnancy and taking a risk on outcome.” Infanticide, in other words, is being considered here.
Wesley J. Smith, writing in the November 16, 2006 National Review Online, picks up the story: “Consider carefully what has happened here. A prestigious medical association has seriously suggested that killing some babies because they are seriously ill or disabled might be ethically acceptable and, at the very least, is worthy of considered and respectable debate. It is about time that people start paying attention to this. Those who think that legal infanticide is unthinkable and preposterous are being naïve. Infanticide advocacy is no longer limited to rogue bioethicists, such as Princeton University’s notorious Peter Singer, who has famously argued that parents be given as much as a year to decide whether to keep or kill their babies.”
He continues, “In fact, it has been some time since Singer was the dominant voice of infanticide advocacy. In recent years, articles aimed at normalizing the killing of disabled babies have appeared in some of the world’s most established medical publications. For example, the March 10, 2005, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine published an article by Dutch physicians who have admitted to having euthanized 15-20 disabled infants.”
Smith then cites one writer, Jim Holt, who said that the decision to kill sick or disabled babies should be governed by “a new moral duty,” namely, “the duty to prevent suffering, especially futile suffering.” Holt put it this way:
“The debate over infant euthanasia is usually framed as a collision between two values: sanctity of life and quality of life. Judgments about the latter, of course, are notoriously subjective and can lead you down a slippery slope. But shifting the emphasis to suffering changes the terms of the debate. To keep alive an infant whose short life expectancy will be dominated by pain – pain that it can neither bear nor comprehend – is, it might be argued, to do that infant a continuous injury.”
But Smith cuts through this circus of words: “At first blush, this might seem reasonable, but Holt’s game of semantics does not provide him with traction on the slippery slope. The concept of suffering is not limited to pain, but must also take account of ‘quality of life,’ as more liberal advocates of infanticide would surely point out. More insidiously, Holt’s advocacy could lead to a perceived duty to kill disabled babies since he argues that not killing a disabled baby could be to inflict injury upon the child.”
But as is so often the case, moral or compassionate grounds really take second place to mere financial considerations. “Such arguments are really a veneer for the real issues, which are money and commitment. Disabled infants are expensive to care for, particularly if they don’t die young, and they require all sorts of attention. The nub of the issue isn’t about our supposed inability to alleviate the suffering of infants – a false supposition – but rather, about our not wanting to spend the financial and emotional resources it would take to do so. This position is clearly central to the RCOG’s statement – and was explicitly ratified in a November 9, 2006, editorial in The Economist calling the RCOG’s call to debate infanticide ‘brave’ and urging that infanticide be seriously considered because ‘Disabled children are nine times more likely than others to end up in the care of the state’.”
Smith concludes, “Infanticide, alas, has become a respectable notion, at least among some elite opinion makers. History shows that this is how baby killing begins – by convincing ourselves that there is such a thing as a human life not worth living, and hence, not worth protecting. By calling for a serious debate about infanticide, the RCOG has badly subverted the foundational moral principle that each and every human being has equal moral value simply and merely because he or she is human.”
The medical community is supposed to act on the principle of “do no harm”. It is obviously moving a long way away from such a standard. Now more than ever doctors and health care workers who still subscribe to the Hippocratic Oath need to speak out, and do so quickly. Too much is at risk to remain silent.