Jim Holt: Euthanasia for Babies?

NY Times Magazine Contributor Jim Holt makes the "Schiavo Argument" for infant euthanasia:


"Infanticide -- the deliberate killing of newborns with the consent of the parents and the community -- has been common throughout most of human history. In some societies, like the Eskimos, the Kung in Africa and 18th-century Japan, it served as a form of birth control when food supplies were limited. In others, like the Greek city-states and ancient Rome, it was a way of getting rid of deformed babies. (Plato was an ardent advocate of infanticide for eugenic purposes.) But the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all condemned infanticide as murder, holding that only God has the right to take innocent human life. Consequently, the practice has long been outlawed in every Western nation.

This year, however, a new chapter may have begun in the history of infanticide. Two physicians practicing in the Netherlands, the very heart of civilized Europe, this spring published in The New England Journal of Medicine a set of guidelines for what they called infant ''euthanasia.'' The authors named their guidelines the Groningen protocol, after the city where they work. One of the physicians, Dr. Eduard Verhagen, has admitted to presiding over the killing of four babies in the last three years, by means of a lethal intravenous drip of morphine and midazolam (a sleeping agent). While Verhagen's actions were illegal under Dutch law, he hasn't been prosecuted for them; and if his guidelines were to be accepted, they could establish a legal basis for his death-administering work."

At first I'm reading this and thinking, "Here comes the "Schiavo Argument for killing the Patient" - you know, "Well, their life ain't worth a plug nickel anyway, let's put 'em out of their misery!"

Then reading further, what do you know? Sure enough....

"The sanctity-of-life doctrine has an impressively absolute ring to it. In practice, however, it has proved quite flexible. Take the case of a baby who is born missing most or all of its brain. This condition, known as anencephaly, occurs in about 1 in every 2,000 births. An anencephalic baby, while biologically human, will never develop a rudimentary consciousness, let alone an ability to relate to others or a sense of the future. Yet according to the sanctity-of-life doctrine, those deficiencies do not affect its moral status and hence its right to life. Anencephalic babies could be kept alive for years, given the necessary life support. Yet treatment is typically withheld from them on the grounds that it amounts to ''extraordinary means'' -- even though a baby with a normal brain in need of similar treatment would not be so deprived. Thus they are allowed to die."

(It gets worse....Holt turns up the "moralistic heat"..)

"The distinction between killing a baby and letting it die may be convenient. But is there any moral difference? Failing to save someone's life out of ignorance or laziness or cowardice is one thing. But when available lifesaving treatment is deliberately withheld from a baby, the intention is to cause that baby's death. And the result is just as sure -- if possibly more protracted and painful -- as it would have been through lethal injection."

Now for the "Schiavo Sinker"...

....If the newborn's prognosis is hopeless and the pain both severe and unrelievable, it observes, the parents and physicians ''may concur that death would be more humane than continued life.'' The protocol aims to safeguard against ''unjustified'' euthanasia by offering a checklist of requirements, including informed consent of both parents, certain diagnosis, confirmation by at least one independent doctor and so on.

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."

Again, to use the state sanctioned murder of Terri Schiavo, it was not the sanctity of life that won, but the supposed "quality of her life", that determined her fate in the Court.

Does anyone of the Right have any doubt of the importance of upcoming SCOTUS nominations. I don't.


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