Friday, 24 November 2006

Killing Children

Don’t worry; I’m not about to hector you regarding the human rights atrocities carried out in Palestine, Iraq and Sudan; I’ll save that for another post. I’m talking about child euthanasia, or the right of parents and doctors to help sick infants to die.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is debating whether it is always right to keep the sickest children alive and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has released a 247-page report on the matter that can be seen here. It makes for interesting reading and this complicated area generates complicated and conflicting answers.

The key conclusion from the report was: “There are some circumstances in which imposing or continuing treatments to sustain a newborn baby’s life results in a level of irremediable suffering such that there is no ethical obligation to act in order to preserve that life.” Interestingly they state that the interests of the baby are the central consideration and not those of the parents, with the doctor acting in the best interests of the child. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion in relation to euthanasia is the disapproval of any active ending of the child’s life but in the following paragraph, approval for the use of sedatives and analgesics “potentially life-shortening but pain-relieving treatments are morally acceptable” which is the classic method used on both adults and children to speed up the process of inevitable death.

Regular readers will not be surprised that I support child euthanasia, just as I support adult euthanasia and abortion. I believe firmly in choice and I believe that prolonging life unnecessarily is just that. There is another reason for my belief in child euthanasia: bringing up a massively disabled child is often too much for a family unit to manage, heartbreakingly hard in fact. Thus, the family unit collapses and the child is left to be cared for by the state. Disabled children in the UK are nine times more likely to end up in the care of the state and British doctor’s bravery in discussing this matter should be applauded.


  1. I believe that, in the terminal stages of cancer, there should be a legitimate, medical method by which a patient may request a shortening of their suffering, in the name of human mercy.

    The most common argument against this is the Hippocratic Oath, which says to do "no harm." It has been debated lo these millennia whether allowing someone to suffer without doing something (which might harm them) is actually "doing" harm to them, but we never see the spirit of Hippocrates' words.

    People get the mistaken image of Hipporcrates as a tree-hugging, sandal-wearing pacifist, and equate the "do no harm" clause of his medical oath with some Ahimsa-style noninvolvement with any kind of act which limits or impairs human survival.

    People would probably be stunned to know that Hippocrates was also a vocal, and ingenious military critic, whose wisdom on how war should be waged kept the Greeks dominant for centuries.

    He is still quoted as a military philosopher, and if the individual can wrap their head around a separation of the Great One's military innovations and his medical innovations, a greater understanding of both humanism, and a desireable quality of life might emerge.

    Yes, he could demand of his students that they "do no harm" and demand of his military protoges that they do as much harm as possible--in order to impose and/or protect a desireable quality of human life.

    Thus taking the wind out of the mistaken image of a hippy Hippocrates, euthanasia, which was a standard practise among Greeks and Romans, becomes more than a legitimate option in the course of a quality human life.

    As both a Col. AND a Dr., I can assure you, on moral grounds, that were Hippocrates alive today, he would be repulsed at the idea of keeping doomed people alive to max out their insurance benefits.

    The argument that a "miracle" treatment might come along is equally cruel, and about as likely to occur as the "miracles" those who think themselves moral expect to happen.

    Every tribe in history, with the exception of the Biblical nation of Israel has had, formally or otherwise, some kind of "understanding" about ending unbearable suffering before the natural life cycle ceases.

    Whether by ritual suicide, ritual sacrifice, geriatric exile, or death at the hands of those who are most trusted and wise among the people, euthanasia is probably as old as the human species itself.

    Accepting this reality will free the individual from many things, the fear of having the healthcare system collapse as a result of exponential advances in keeping people alive at any cost, not the least of them.

    The individual is freed from the horrifying, scarring fear that they will end up someday, in extreme pain and either unable to communicate their agony, or unable, due to misplaced "moral" sentiments and greedy hospital managers, to do what is obviously the most logical thing to do.

    Ultimately, the strongest pro-euthanasia argument is found in the reason for the existence of the medical profession. Any good doctor is at first instinct a merciful person.

    The bright side of this is, contrary to a growing opinion of doctors as money-hungry urban snobs, the vast majority of people who work in medicine are honestly moved by a compulsion to end human suffering.

    In this essence, this pure spirit of merciful grace, should we see that the same profession which can often prolong and sustain physical life, is dually tasked with a responsibility to prevent robbing that life of its humanity.


    In the case of infanticide, I think it is unfair to put parents into a position of choosing "a side."

    The devastation which occurs when predominant developmental delays and/or life-threatening congenital problems are present affects the relationship immediately, and last a lifetime.

    Unfortunately, it is Fate, or God, or Nature, or whatever controlled the development of the child which put the parents in the unfair position.

    On the matter of choice, I agree with you in principle, and I think there should be an option but with strict qualifying factors.

    All the same, I cannot help but feel sorriest for people who are forced to make this most difficult kind of decision with the life of their own child.

    In this entire issue of euthanasia, as with every difficult issue we face in what should be an existentially rich human experience, the realities of each circumstance, as each individual involved lives them should ultimately bring us a little closer to understanding what it means to be alive, and what it means to be a living human.

  2. Tough topic. Definitely worthy of discussion. The Col. Dr. has it right.

    I have nothing but the utmost respect for those courageous people who raise children with life-threatening disabilities and empathy for the doctors, caregivers, and parents who bravely end the suffering of children who have no hope of a painless, fulfilling life.

  3. As the sister of someone who was born with heart disease and has had problems since birth, I have thought about this myself. Would it have been better if my sister hadn't had 3 open-heart operations as a baby? I don;t know. I think that's a decision each set of parents has to make for themselves. Some illnesses are just too horrible and it is just inhumane to force someone to live that way.

  4. I will not debate the right or wrong of it because I can not.

    I just count my blessings that I was never faced with making these difficult choices. I know what a mothers instincts are, but instincts are often not appropriate in this era. I feel for anyone who has to deal with this and would never consider myself worthy of judging them.

    What I do know is that it is not a topic the "State" should be involved with.

    Dr Col, thank you for your views, they are enlightening

  5. While I agree with Mal in many areas, including the 'State' argument, it should be pointed out that zealots quoting translations of texts written by people who lived and died two thousand years before the medical techniques that allowed these unfortunate souls to even live five minutes outside the womb were invented have forced the issue.

    It should be up to the families and doctors to decide which of the bad choices that lay ahead should be chosen. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.


  6. Once euthanasia is legal, health insurers will require that you agree to it or they will not cover you. Their health maintenance managers will decide (with your permission, "freely" given, of course)

    This change will take longer to happen in places where you have public health insurance, but it will come.

  7. Of course, the whole issue of caring for unwanted children, whether they are orphans or abandoned or born with disabilities could be solved if we allow paedophiles to care for them, because paedophiles really love children, right?

    Wait a minute, I haven't thought this through properly...

  8. Wow! Col. Dr. said it much better than I ever could, and from the perspective of a medical doctor.

    I would hope to God I was never faced with that choice, but I believe that it's one that we all should have should the unthinkable ever happen.

    The true, underlying concept behind banning assisted suicide is that "where there is life, there's hope ..." Yes, hope. But not for treatment or a miracle: For salvation of a soul. This springs from thousands of years of Catholic doctrine (and this is one area that the Protestants don't usually diverge from).

    But in the case of a small child that cannot understand any of this, it is cruel to keep them alive while they're in agony.

    I saw a baby born with cancer once, and watched the poor thing die in inches over a year and a half (he was the baby of a very good client of mine). I cried every time they left. I don't know how the mother stood it, but she had no other options. That poor, sweet baby suffered so patiently and had such a sweet and loving nature. I still cry when I think of it.

  9. Bud,
    I think the law can make sure the health insurance providers do not get the right to make that decision. Their are certain health decisions tat can only lie with the person, without pressure. Let's not forget that we do live in a nation of laws, and with each new situation that arrises, new laws can be passed to govern it if need be. Other countries have done it and done it fairly well, so why can't we?

  10. Once again I whole heartedly agree. And as my Grandmother is purely being kept alive now as she has lost her sight and speech and her mind I know that euthanasia should not only be disgussed but be effective there's no point in prolonging the inevitable just to waste someones hard earned life saving on over paid shit fucking service to a body that can't even realise it. IM SO FUCKED OFF


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