The ethics concerning Euthanasia of severely disabled newborns is now being discussed in Britain. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology proposed that this topic be openly discussed because the number of children painfully dealing with diseases every minute because of medical advancement keeping them alive. The inquiry is being conducted by Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
Within the college’s submission is the statement, “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.”
In July of 2005, Dutch doctors adopted guidelines to follow in cases where euthanasia was a valuable option in the treatment of severely disabled newborns. The requirements are:
1. The diagnosis and prognosis is that the baby is suffering hopelessly and unbearably with no hope for improvement
2. That the prognosis is confirmed by an independent doctor
3. That both parents give informed consent
4. That details of the newborns condition and the euthanasia procedure be given to local district attorneys.
It is very possible that if Britain would eventually legalize euthanasia for infants that their policy would resemble that of the Netherlands. Soon this will be a hot topic again in the United States. As far as I know, only Oregon has a law that addresses infant euthanasia in a favorable sense, and it is protested by groups. Should the United States follow suit and debate the plausibility of euthanasia as a treatment of diseases in babies?
Euthanasia has always been an option, although not a legal one. Some doctors feel that it is time to stop hiding this fact and start addressing it favorably. Others proclaim that even passive euthanasia is playing God and should be avoided. However, isn’t being a doctor in itself playing God by trying to prolong or change another’s life? Couldn’t the argument of child abuse charges be made against the doctor that chooses to ignore a possible option of euthanasia in favor of aggressive medical treatment that leaves a patient with no chance for relief in severe pain and/or disfigurement?
I know, the whole discussion is so despicable. Yet when one is forced to face images and facts of a newborn with severe Spina Bifida, Encephalocele or other horrible disease, the question no more remains a philosophical one. It has morphed instantly into a humanitarian one.
And it is this humanitarian question that we must answer, first to ourselves, then to our politicians. In the future, maybe as early as the presidential election of 2008, this topic will be debated on a professional level within the United States.