Should one be allowed to euthanize severely deformed or doomed newborns?

July 13, 2017 • 9:00 am

The question of whether one should be able to euthanize newborns who have horrible conditions or deformities, or are doomed to a life that cannot by any reasonable light afford happiness, has sparked heated debate.  Philosopher Peter Singer has argued that euthanasia is the merciful action in such cases, and I agree with him. If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?  I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral. After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments (and if there’s severe mental disability, would never develop such faculties). It makes little sense to keep alive a suffering child who is doomed to die or suffer life in a vegetative or horribly painful state. After all, doctors and parents face no legal penalty for simply withdrawing care from such newborns, like turning off a respirator, but Singer suggests that we should be allowed, with the parents’ and doctors’ consent, to painlessly end their life with an injection. I agree.

This is one area in which philosophy has a big contribution to make (and science can play an ancillary role, telling us the likelihood that a child will survive such conditions). Peter Singer’s utilitarian views on the issue can be seen in a 2005 op-ed at the Los Angeles Times, “Pulling back the curtain on the mercy killing of newborns“.  This is apparently already allowed in the Netherlands. As Singer wrote:

In Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, two doctors from the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands outline the circumstances in which doctors in their hospital have, in 22 cases over seven years, carried out euthanasia on newborn infants. All of these cases were reported to a district attorney’s office in the Netherlands. None of the doctors were prosecuted.

Eduard Verhagen and Pieter Sauer divide into three groups the newborns for whom decisions about ending life might be made.

The first consists of infants who would die soon after birth even if all existing medical resources were employed to prolong their lives.

In the second group are infants who require intensive care, such as a respirator, to keep them alive, and for whom the expectations regarding their future are “very grim.” These are infants with severe brain damage. If they can survive beyond intensive care, they will still have a very poor quality of life.

The third group includes infants with a “hopeless prognosis” and who also are victims of “unbearable suffering.” For example, in the third group was “a child with the most serious form of spina bifida,” the failure of the spinal cord to form and close properly. Yet infants in group three may no longer be dependent on intensive care.

It is this third group that creates the controversy because their lives cannot be ended simply by withdrawing intensive care. Instead, at the University Medical Center Groningen, if suffering cannot be relieved and no improvement can be expected, the physicians will discuss with the parents whether this is a case in which death “would be more humane than continued life.” If the parents agree that this is the case, and the team of physicians also agrees — as well as an independent physician not otherwise associated with the patient — the infant’s life may be ended.

. . . One thing is undisputed: Infants with severe problems are allowed to die in the U.S. These are infants in the first two of the three groups identified by Verhagen and Sauer. Some of them — those in the second group — can live for many years if intensive care is continued. Nevertheless, U.S. doctors, usually in consultation with parents, make decisions to withdraw intensive care. This happens openly, in Catholic as well as non-Catholic hospitals.

. . .I believe the Groningen protocol to be based on the sound ethical perception that the means by which death occurs is less significant, ethically, than the decision that it is better that an infant’s life should end. If it is sometimes acceptable to end the lives of infants in group two — and virtually no one denies this — then it is also sometimes acceptable to end the lives of infants in group three.

For these views Singer has been demonized by disability rights advocates, who have called for his firing and disrupted his talks (see my post about that here). All for just raising a reasonable ethical question that should be considered and discussed! After all, fifty years ago the same kind of opprobrium would have been leveled at those calling for voluntary euthanasia (assisted suicide) of terminally ill adults, but now that’s legal in several places in the world; as Wikipedia notes, “As of June 2016, human euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Canada, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, Washington DC, and California.”  (I’ve heard from several doctors that humane euthanasia of adults is in fact practiced in the US: doctors will give patients an overdose of morphine to ease their suffering, knowing it will kill them.)

This change in views about euthanasia and assisted suicide are the result of a tide of increasing morality in our world, a tide described and explained by Steve Pinker in his superb book The Better Angels of Our Nature (yes, it’s long, but you really must read it!). It’s time to add to the discussion the euthanasia of newborns, who have no ability or faculties to decide whether to end their lives. Although discussing the topic seems verboten now, I believe some day the practice will be widespread, and it will be for the better. After all, we euthanize our dogs and cats when to prolong their lives would be torture, so why not extend that to humans? Dogs and cats, like newborns, can’t make such a decision, and so their caregivers take the responsibility. (I have done this myself to a pet, as have many of you, and firmly believe it’s the right thing to do. Our pain at making such a decision is lessened knowing that dogs and cats, like newborns, don’t know about death and thus don’t fear it.)

The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion—in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul. It’s the same mindset that, in many places, won’t allow abortion of fetuses that have severe deformities. When religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.

My view, then, aligns with Singer’s: a child falling in any of the classes above should be considered as a subject for euthanasia, and it should be legal if the doctors and parents concur. As for the “slippery slope” argument—that this will lead to Nazi-like eugenics—well, this hasn’t come to pass in places where assisted suicide or euthanasia of adults is legal. Since the newborn can’t decide, it’s up to the parents, with advice (and maybe consent) of the doctors.

The pain of these newborns, and of making these decisions, is evident in a piece in yesterday’s New York Times’ “The Stone” section (a philosophy column), provocatively called “You should not have let your baby die.” (What the author means is that “you should have killed your baby.”) It describes the situation of parents whose baby was born with “trisomy 18”: three rather than the normal two copies of chromosome 18. Trisomy 21, three copies of the smaller 21st chromosome, is what produces Down Syndrome. But unlike the Down case, trisomy 18, involving imbalance of a larger chromosome, produces a severe condition, with most children dying horrible deaths soon after birth. A few, though, can live into their 20s and 30s.

Therein lies the dilemma. Should you take that chance? The child described by author Gary Comstock, a philosophy professor at North Carolina State University, was in dire shape, forced to breathe on a respirator and unable to survive without one. The odds that that child could live in a decent state were nil. After agonizing over what to do, the parents decided to take the legal course of withdrawing care: removing the respirator. The child slowly suffocates. I want to put up the end of the column, as it shows the case for euthanasia of a newborn like this:

The nurse comes in, mute. You look at him, sleeping. He seems at peace. You nod your head. She gently pulls the tube. It slides out quickly, as though he were helping to expel it. Without his lifeline, he does not move. A minute later, his eyes open. It is the first time you have seen them. His head jerks slightly forward. He does not cry. He gasps silently for breath. His eyes close. You almost yell for the nurse, to beg her to put it back in. To keep from doing so, you pray, arguing with God that letting him die is best for him. After five minutes, his face pales, then turns a sickly purple. His tiny chest convulses irregularly in an unsuccessful attempt to draw air into the lungs. After 20 minutes, he lies still. His fingers turn gray.

Thirty minutes. There are no visible signs of life. You rock his limp body as tears fall on the blue blanket. You wonder what sort of beast you are. Forty-five minutes. Grandma looks in, ashen faced, seeing in a glance that it is over. Shortly your wife appears. She immediately takes her son’s body in her arms and coddles him. She sits there with him for three hours.

You should not have let your baby die. You should have killed him.

This thought occurs to you years later, thinking about the gruesome struggle of his last 20 minutes. You are not sure whether it makes sense to talk about his life, because he never seemed to have the things that make a life: thoughts, wants, desires, interests, memories, a future. But supposing that he had thoughts, his strongest thought during those last minutes certainly appeared to be: “This hurts. Can’t someone help it stop?” He didn’t know your name, but if he had, he would have said: “Daddy? Please. Now.”

It seems the medical community has few options to offer parents of newborns likely to die. We can leave our babies on respirators and hope for the best. Or remove the hose and watch the child die a tortured death. Shouldn’t we have another choice? Shouldn’t we be allowed the swift humane option afforded the owners of dogs, a lethal dose of a painkiller?

For years you repress the thought. Then, early one morning, remembering again those last minutes, you realize that the repugnant has become reasonable. The unthinkable has become the right, the good. Painlessly. Quickly. With the assistance of a trained physician.

You should have killed your baby.


188 thoughts on “Should one be allowed to euthanize severely deformed or doomed newborns?

  1. Yes, absolutely.
    The negative eugenics type arguments are mitigated these days by increased awareness.
    History has its lessons and moral philosophy has had influence. Ethics committees are the norm for many many endevours.

    People are watching.

    1. Absolutely no. In the future we’ll look back on our present society and say, “How brutal not to have understood the inherent and inalienable dignity and worth of every human being.”

      Religion aside, the truth is that each child conceived and born is a reaffirmation of life, of the goodness of life. Each child—a gift of inestimable value. Even an imperfect, pain-ridden, pathetically shortened human life is yet a triumph over nothingness, a triumph of an heroic will to live. Each of these more easily wounded children have defied immense odds just to be alive and to stay alive. Each one is a hero.

      As are the parents who love and care for these heroes—they have loved them and suffered for them and with them, and day after day, night after night, have affirmed each fragile presence here. They have supported their children’s will to live and kept their children from deadly harm. They have acknowledged them as their daughters and sons and comforted them. Their triumph has been to love them and to go on loving them in an all too often hostile world.

      This is heroism in the true sense of the word. Our world would be poorer without them.

      1. “Even an imperfect, pain-ridden, pathetically shortened human life is yet a triumph over nothingness, a triumph of an heroic will to live”

        +++++++ Really? What a rosy, romantic idea. Tell that to the parents of a child born without half of its brain. Tell that to the parents of a child born with inoperable heart damage. Tell that to me when your child is born without a chance of developing intellectual capabilities. “A triumph over nothingness” means absolutely nothing if your entire life is a misery or an empty potential without any realization of cognition.

        In future, we’ll look back and wonder how we allowed society to doom a child to a life of misery from the moment of birth….not to mention dooming its parents to poverty, having to provide for care for someone essentially a vegetable.

        1. No child is “essentially a vegetable”. Every child can and should be loved tenderly and cared for as long as she or he is alive. Where parents can’t afford basic care,families and communities must help them. It’s called human solidarity.

          Financial difficulty is never an adequate excuse for killing a child.

  2. Ah yes, the “superior morality” of the religious that requires, in some cases, that we treat humans worse than we’d treat a dog.

    1. I was on morphine for 16 years to treat chronic pain, up until last fall. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia have frightened many doctors into ceasing prescribing of opioids through threats of fines and loss of license.
      I asked my doctor if I had any say in my treatment, he said “I could lose my license”.

      But my dog can still get his opioid based pain killers.

    1. They often don’t. There are doctors and there are also financial decisions, including insurance and so on. But should the state be making these decisions?

  3. This is a hot button topic, but the treatment of pets versus humans is telling. It always amazes me when a pet is put down “to end its suffering” but when applied to humans is a cardinal sin.

  4. I recall reading about Prince’s son Amir, who was born with Pfeiffer syndrome type 2 which causes devastating abnormalities. The child lived only 6 more days. As a Jehovah’s witness, Prince did not allow amniocentesis even though doctors had determined there were problems. They baby still had many procedures done in his short life, including having his eye sewn shut (the syndrome is characterized by lack of eyelids) before letting him die. More like torture if you asked me.

  5. Another religious intrusion that sets back human civilization by decades. Way to go religion.

  6. The US health care system already allows people to die, because they are poor rather than terminal or suffering.

    I find it offensive that when there are good reasons to ease inevitable suffering that many doctors must stay their hands.

    If there is a God he must be Catholic because he appears to love the suffering of humans.

  7. The “tide of increasing morality in our world”. Euthanasia is a critical component to a moral society. Until we can develop genetic engineering controls that can prevent disabling features in humans, young or old, there must be a feature in a society that allows for euthanasia.

    The lack of euthanasia for a modern society leaves yet another mark of the retrograde centerpieces of religiosity.

    I imagine >20000 years ago, one of my ancestors took her child’s life because she knew it wasn’t going to do well and she anticipated more opportunities lay ahead to have what would become my super-great grandfather. No twisted religious dogma told her not to.

  8. OF COURSE! This wouldn’t be an issue were it not for the intrusion/control of religion. Medical staff have been quietly ”letting these babies go” for centuries.

  9. Peter Singer has been bending minds for years and is always a pleasure to hear and read. I once went to a book reading of a friend of a friend who was severely disabled – physically – from birth and had written a book about his experiences. This guy hated Singer because he thought he would be dead if Singer had his way.

    There may be no bright line dividing the painfully doomed, like the infant with the worst form of spina bifida, from those who are merely disadvantaged like the mildly mentally challenged. Laws and regulations would need to be carefully written to tightly constrain the cases where euthanasia could be used to the most hopeless cases.

    1. The laws that exist ARE very carefully written. If you read them you’ll see that it’s not about a licence to kill. A lot of thought and discussion has gone into their development. In most cases they’ve taken years to develop. It’s not the sort of thing you want to get wrong after all.

  10. “The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion”

    I think you have this completely backwards.

    Religion comes about because humans are hardwired to believe they are special.

  11. Iirc Singer at one point included Down’s Syndrome as sufficient reason for infant euthanasia– a position he changed his mind about after meeting many people with Down’s Syndrome who were living happy, meaningful lives. But the original argument has always dogged him, possibly with some justification. It’s not exactly an esoteric secret that Down’s Syndrome alone doesn’t kill all possibility of hope and joy. He jumped the gun on that one. Others might do the same thing.

    I also suspect that it’s not just religion’s emphasis on the sacred special nature of human beings, but its emphasis on the ever present possibility of miracles which fuels some of the the opposition to infant euthanasia. If you believe in magic, and believe that belief is also magic, then there is no such thing as a hopeless prognosis. Anything can happen. You latch on to legitimate stories of surprising recoveries along with made up nonsense of incredible recoveries and imagine that THIS might be like THAT. You’re giving up on God, not just your kid and your dreams about them.

    1. I agree with Singer’s earlier position. While some people with Down syndrome lead happy, independent lives, many are severely disabled and place severe burdens on their parents and families for their entire lives (maybe 40-50 years). I think it’s reasonable for the parent of an infant with Down syndrome to judge the risk not worth it.

      After all, what is lost? At that point, not a whole lot. An infant’s value is almost entirely to its family, and if the family doesn’t want it, why force them to have it? People can argue in both directions about what an infant might become, but those imaginations aren’t reality.

      1. If I remember correctly, Peter Singer argues, with regard to abortion, that you can consider the lives of babies you will not have in the future if you chose to keep the current baby. I can’t remember if he extends it to this situation but I think perhaps you could. If the resources and expenses of raising a severely disabled child would prevent you from having a second child, you might consider the life that will not be lived in making your decision.

    2. Down’s is an interesting point because it is something that is currently tested for during pregnancy. My understanding is that the number of people born with Down’s has substantially decreased due to abortions of fetuses with it.

      1. There has been NO Downs children born in Iceland for over 10 years. Practically non in Netherlands. Abortion. Eugenics.

        What shocks me, though is the rather indifference to this that seems to active here, amongst a liberal (more or less) group. The opinion seems to be sort of ‘they’re not going thrive, so it’s ok to kill them’ approach.

        Part I guess is due to the rather specious argument that
        *religion opposes killing this infant/fetus’
        *religion is wrong

        * the prohibition on euthanizing these individuals is wrong.

        There is a lot of screwballery in religion, but parts of it mirror the inner workings of human morality. That’s where religion got some of this stuff–it’s not all just made up. You don’t throw out something just because some religions teach it, you throw it out if the action is barbaric. It seems though, that the remedy to the religious idea being discussed can be viewed as more barbaric than the religiously motivated rule.

  12. My RN daughter has just retired after almost 40 years as an ICN nurse. This subject has of course come up often. Yes, it is the religious parents who often refuse to consider euthanasia, the god’s will thing, but the rational ones who want no agony for their child suffer equally. Much depends on the doctor. There are ways to prevent final agonies. These days parents are not always allowed the final decision – but often. Also, the media gives great publicity to the “saves” – “miracles” -without discussion of the struggles for the family and for the severely disabled “fails”.
    There is great respect and seriousness and support for either decision.
    I think euthanasia should be more discussed, supported and available without stigma.

  13. Your claim that it has never led to a slippery slope is refuted by the example in the rest of your sentence! Regardless of how one feels about this issue it is wrong to deny that the most famous precedent is a precedent.
    There is some question about modern day Holland too I think.

    1. Now that isn’t fair. Prof Ceiling Cat (em) did not say it never led to a slippery slope, he said it won’t lead to one, then justified it by saying that where it has been practiced in its current form it hasn’t led to “Nazi-like eugenics”.

    2. Can I ask what that question might be? In the Netherlands the debate over the Groningen protocol (not incidentally my place of birth, in that very hospital) is never really over. But it is (mostly) a healthy debate, and almost all politicians defer this question to the medical world. There are a few hardline Christian parties but their influence is not large enough to get away with only scaremongering and moral outrage. Their moral arguments are simply not convincing for the voting public, and there is a sense of pride about our country being at the forefront of medical and ethical progress.

      Notice I did say mostly, because the minister responsible for the very first outlawing of euthenasia in the world (in 2001) was murdered in 2014 by a Christian fundamentalist who acted ‘on the word of god’. Shows how you can never really get away from that.

        1. Was Els Borst murdered? Shocking. And I find it nearly as shocking I didn’t hear about it here in SA.
          Such a formidable woman!

        2. I see the murderer also murdered his sister.
          He was diagnosed as a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’, not a bad description of religious nutcases in general, me seems.

  14. I am grateful that at this point in my life I will almost certainly never have to make a decision about a baby’s life.

    I don’t think, though, that attitudes towards euthanasia and assisted suicide are new and part of a rising tide of morality. Obviously, there has been a cultural bias against suicide fueled by Christianity for centuries. As for euthanasia, one hundred years ago we wouldn’t have been arguing about it, but then the Nazis came along, and gave mercy-killing a bad name. Since then I think we’ve been very touchy about both assisted suicide and euthanasia, and who is actually driving an individual decision to end a life. I don’t think one has to be a holy roller to be reticent on either topic.

  15. If you withdraw care in the knowledge that, without that care the baby will die, then you are effectively killing the child. Unfortunately, the way that you are doing it may cause suffering & pain to the baby. Surely, as a civilised society we should be aiming to end the life without causing any more pain than is needed.

    1. Absolutely agree with that.

      Anyone who treated an animal the way ‘we’ treat suffering/dying humans would be up on charges of criminal neglect or cruelty.


      1. “Anyone who treated an animal the way ‘we’ treat suffering/dying humans”–even, ironically enough, humans being executed. I’m against capital punishment but as long as it’s happening, once again–use the veterinary protocols. It’s deeply upsetting to read about lethal injections taking hours to kill, while the subject moans and writhes.

        (I find it interesting that one of the reasons, supposedly, for the difficulty in identifying and obtaining meds for execution is the refusal by pharmaceutical companies to let their products be used in that way. I’d like to think that was a purely ethical demur, but I suspect PR plays a large role.)

        1. “… I’d like to think that was a purely ethical demur, but I suspect PR plays a large role.”

          I suspect that bad PR is the only reason, (other than increasing CEO salaries) drug companies do anything. Look at the sordid history of the Tobacco industry, that merely finds better (less regulated) markets overseas when Americans started complaining.

          1. As the widow of a senior research scientist in Big Pharma, I like to remind everyone–not that they need it, probably–that the problem is not corporations per se but lack of regulation. Capitalism is simply not rewarded for altruistic gestures–in fact, such are often suicidal. There are always competitors willing to be less generous and more attentive to their stockholders. People are not addressing the ultimate problem when they blame “Big Pharma” or “Big Ag” or whatever for their perceived moral shortcomings. This is why decent societies embrace government regulations.

            It’s not just a fluke that US drugs are available far more cheaply in other countries than in the US. Hell, the size of the US market should allow us to negotiate the best possible bargains; if only people elected those who saw access to life-saving pharmaceuticals as more important than investor returns.

            Below the CEOs and the Boards, of course, there are thousands of people who are honest and caring and doing the work that is vital to our physical well-being…

            (Sorry–not a lecture you deserved! As you can tell by my last sentence in my previous post I’m just as jaded as anyone else about what the management of internatonal )

          2. “…if only people elected those who saw access to life-saving pharmaceuticals as more important than investor returns.”
            Very well-said! Not a lecture at all!

            I know it’s not that simple, but I’m constantly amazed that our country seems to be playing the Trolley Problem ‘Game’- where the entire healthcare debate is framed as “Millions of Americans *must* lose their healthcare, your only choice is to decide *how many* millions.”

        2. Re the capital punishment, as I understand it (and I may be wrong here) you can kill someone quite painlessly just by substituting nitrogen for oxygen in their atmosphere. The gasping reflex is not triggered by lack of oxygen, just build-up of CO2.

          So a gas chamber, not with cyanide etc but with nitrogen, would be quite painless. (Other than the mental pain of the condemned knowing he’s going to die. A good shot of valium would fix even that).

          Anyone know for sure?

          (P.S. I’m opposed to capital punishment though, because judicial mistakes happen).

          1. Some time ago I ran across a video of N2 pig asphyxiation, which I’ve just spent a useless 10 minutes trying to find online.

            At any rate, it showed a door opening and a pig running into a room with a feeding trough which was encircled by a clear plastic drape. It looked as if the pig had been trained in such a room on such an apparatus because it eagerly stuck its head through the plastic curtain and attacked the noms. Shortly Nitrogen gas was introduced into the chamber and the pig just collapsed and died–no apparent stress at all. After viewing something like that one wonders why it hasn’t immediately been put to universal use!

            When one reads about industrial/agricultural accidents in which workers are killed by accidental releases of inert gases they could not detect, you wonder why no one ever went “aha!”

  16. My first reaction comes from the need to draw a line to avoid a slippery slope. Birth is a convenient line (it’s even supported by the bible- e.g., Adam received life from a breath; Christians can beborn again), but as this post shows, it is not necessarily the best one. Only through open discussion can a new line be determined.

  17. I agree that in special circumstances, euthanasia should be an option….but i disagree with this statement;
    “…dogs and cats, like newborns, don’t know about death and thus don’t fear it.”
    Dogs and cats (and likely every other animal) know about death. I’ve seen animals mourn other animals’ or their master’s death and i’ve had pets who i’m positive knew they were dying. I think animals, much more than newborns, are aware of their mortality.

    Whether they anticipate and dote on eventual death is another thing. I don’t think non-humans spend any time worrying that they will one day pass into nonexistence. Perhaps that’s why there are apparently no dog gods.

    1. I definitely agree with you. We have always had cats and have euthanized when it was the correct time.
      We euthanized our much loved seventeen years old cat last Monday who we are convinced knew she was dying. Her ten years companion mourns her and our other five cats know she is not coming home.
      One of our cats, a young female knows the health of the feline household by anal sniffing and she was the first to indicate a problem with our departed seventeen year old before the medical diagnosis (a kidney tumour) this despite regular check ups, blood and urine etc tests. It took ultrasound to reveal the tumour.
      I do not think they fear death and their death managed by us and our amazing animal hospital is always a loving and dignified event.
      I just hope that my own death can be the same.
      I do not fear death, just the method!

    2. Cats absolutely know, and they know when they’re ready for it to end, to give in…

      I’ve had to put two cats to sleep in y life so far. Each had spent seventeen joyous and loving years together with me. While I knew about their respective conditions and what their end results would be long before they manifested, once the conditions were detected they carried on just as ever. The first cat started having seizures and completely stopped eating one night. He was having two to four seizures an hour and there was no way to give him a pill or even raise his blood sugar level (he was also diabetic). He looked to us as if he knew it was time to go, what he wanted and needed us to do. He was very dignified like that. We wrapped him in a towel with his little head popping out and drove him to the vet while my father held him. He was happy to feel our hands on him as he slipped away forever.

      My second cat was diagnosed with cancer in her kidney and liver. For another two or so years, she lived on just like always, but about three years later, on an otherwise entirely innocuous day, she started wheezing, couldn’t walk up the smallest stair without struggling (she used to bound up and down the whole flight endlessly during midnight crazy time, but now she could barely pull herself up two stairs), and she walked as if her whole body was hurting.

      For nearly her entire life she slept with me at bedtime. I would get in bed and she would follow in five minutes later, snuggle up between my right arm and ribcage, and go to sleep knowing she was safe and happy.

      So I build a makeshift little staircase to my bed for that last night when she could no longer reach my bed. I took out a drawer and turned it upside down to make the first step, and then stack two such drawers on top of one another for the second step, which was flush with the bed. And that night, just like all the nights before it, she got to sleep in my arms one last time.

      In the morning when I woke up, she had already retreated to the family room. She was curled under the table, gasping for air, clearly in a pain we both knew was only getting worse. Pain was the only thing she could continue extracting from life.

      So, I made the call. I drove the car. I relieved her suffering.

        1. Thanks, Robert. I certainly had tears in my eyes writing that. I’m tearing up again now just thinking about it.

          But how sad you are when your beloved family member dies is directly proportional to how happy they made you in life 🙂

          1. I had tears in my eyes reading it!

            Beautifully written, BJ, and I’m glad that it implies there are still cats in your life.

  18. This is such a difficult topic. I first read about it through this same site. It was like I had the wind knocked out of me as my eyes moved over the words “newborn” and “euthanize” and back again. It wasn’t as intense as having a baseball hit straight to my stomach playing short stop in second grade, but it was sort of like that. It is a really good question, though. It’s good to bring up and discuss. The option of having an abortion is wonderful although I haven’t experienced one. I am also very much in favor of the Death with Dignity Act. I’m glad to see it has spread to Colorado, Montana, and Washington DC. A favorite documentary of mine is How to Die in Oregon. I also love the HBO movie You Don’t Know Jack with Al Pacino. Although these types of debates about life and death often involve religion, my concern is more about the specifics of the third group.

    “The third group includes infants with a “hopeless prognosis” and who also are victims of “unbearable suffering.” For example, in the third group was “a child with the most serious form of spina bifida,” the failure of the spinal cord to form and close properly. Yet infants in group three may no longer be dependent on intensive care.
    It is this third group that creates the controversy because their lives cannot be ended simply by withdrawing intensive care. Instead, at the University Medical Center Groningen, if suffering cannot be relieved and no improvement can be expected, the physicians will discuss with the parents whether this is a case in which death “would be more humane than continued life.” If the parents agree that this is the case, and the team of physicians also agrees — as well as an independent physician not otherwise associated with the patient — the infant’s life may be ended.”

    So I am reminded of my very good friend’s sister, Alison. Alison was born with severe developmental and physical disabilities. Alison also had cerebral palsy. Alison couldn’t speak and couldn’t comprehend. She was confined to a wheelchair for her whole life. She wore diapers and had a full-time caregiver. She apparently was unable to understand anything. She would make incoherent noises and had a breathing tube for most of her adult life. She died about ten years ago at the age of 28.
    Despite all of this, my friend and his family loved her. They know that her favorite song was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” because she would smile when it would come on. They played it at her funeral.

    So what do we do with Alison? Should her parents have euthanized her? Or does she not fall into the third group?

    Anyway, it’s a tough situation to consider. It isn’t as difficult for the newborns in groups one and two. Group three is a maybe depending on the circumstances.

      1. No, I don’t think you should worry. For women in certain dire situations it is indeed wonderful when some helpful respite becomes available. And of course the converse–being unable to make such a decision by reason of law or dogma–is terrible.

        1. True. Thank you, Diane. It would be a difficult decision at least for me. Healthy baby or not. The availability of the choice is wonderful but maybe not the choice itself. That’s for me personally. I appreciate your comment.

          1. “The availability of the choice is wonderful but maybe not the choice itself.”

            I think that nails it.

    1. I would suggest, as a substitute for Alison, a dog.

      Does that sound shocking? But – as you’ve described the situation – the only positive attributes of Alison’s life were that her family were emotionally attached to her. She apparently didn’t get any satisfaction out of life (so far as anyone could tell). Her existence must have been a huge drain on the family – I assume they were wealthy because they could afford a full-time caregiver.

      I have to ask this – would anyone, if offered the choice between an Alison or no child at all, *choose* to have an Alison in their family?


      1. “would anyone, if offered the choice between an Alison or no child at all, ‘choose’ to have an Alison in their family?”

        One isn’t offered a choice between an Alison and no child at all. Euthanizing a child is a far cry from not having had a child. And once you’ve had a child like Alison, what you’re offered is a choice between hope, however fragile, and no hope at all: hope that Alison might beat the odds, hope that she might at least comprehend how much love she is the object of, hope that love given, even if not recognized as such, has value for the giver and as an example to others who face similar challenges. You may be right that few parents would choose to have an Alison in their family, but many parents do choose to keep an Alison in their family once she’s there. Like Liz, I’ve known such people, and they have my admiration.

        1. Sentimental garbage, Mirandaga. And you’re clouding the issue, as usual.

          If the strongest argument for keeping Alison alive is the families feelings towards her, then that’s fine, but as I said, such feelings can as readily be evoked by a family pet.


      2. There is a segment of “pro-life” who must have a child of their own, and use fertility clinics. And the extra fertilized cells that are not implanted are “stored,” in the hope that *some other* caring person will adopt/defrost them. But they also select out cells that have genetic defects, and only implant the healthiest ones.

        Called “snowflake babies”, they asked potential parents to adopt these fertilized cells with abnormalities and diseases, too.

      3. You are asking me to substitute a dog for Alison and asking if it’s shocking. I personally wouldn’t euthanize “an Alison” of my own if it happened and I certainly would choose to have “an Alison” in my family before you. Have a nice evening.

        1. That’s fine, you can have Alison.

          Just don’t try to guilt-trip anyone else into having an Alison.


    2. I spoke to Chris (Alison’s brother) last night. I read him my post and explained about the three groups. With tears in my eyes, I read him @ infiniteimprobabilit’s comment. I explained that my response to that was the “nicest” way that I could think of to respond. He explained that his mom went back to nursing school to better understand Alison. It helped her build her own business in caregiving for the elderly. It helped when Chris shattered glass in his eye when he was two and she knew to wrap the eye to save his eyesight. Chris said it strengthened the relationship between his mother and father still to this day. It made his other siblings (adopted and older than both Alison and Chris who were biological) stronger together. Alison made their lives stronger.

      I could only share Alison’s experience. I don’t know what it would have been like to be her. Even though I know and love Chris and his family and have heard about Alison through them, I have no idea what it would be like. Even as I was talking to Chris, I think he would have more to offer on the topic than I do. It did drain all of them. Chris has told me he didn’t get the attention he deserved as a child. Chris’s mom is one of the strongest women I have met and she has admitted she did not have an easy life. I asked Chris’s dad once if Alison could hear anything and he shook his head with a sadness in his heart. But I’ve seen the pictures of her smiling at Disney World going on the rides. I have seen the pictures of all of the siblings with Alison. She lit up their lives. As well as possibly drained them, too.

      I do know that talking about euthanizing cats and dogs can be helpful in this discussion. You are certainly not, though, going to compare Alison to a dog. Ever. Humans and dogs are different. Alison’s life was significant to her family. She was surrounded by love. She had love in her heart. She enjoyed music and being outside on summer days.

      It’s a difficult question. Maybe the people who have had people from the third group in their families are the best to speak about the issue. It seems that I am more protective of Alison and the issue ever so slightly more than Chris is because he experienced the joys as well as the burdens of Alison. Family members of people like Alison might have more insight into the degree to which Alison was suffering. Tough, tough topic. Thanks for letting me share.

      1. “You are certainly not, though, going to compare Alison to a dog. Ever. Humans and dogs are different. Alison’s life was significant to her family. She was surrounded by love. She had love in her heart. She enjoyed music and being outside on summer days.”

        Why not?

        Both are sentient beings (though the degree of sentience is one of the critical issues of this debate). Every attribute you’ve listed there could certainly be attached to a family pet.

        ‘Humans and dogs are different’.

        P.S. You don’t need to read this to Alison’s family. They are, as you point out, emotionally involved and they have every right to be.

        1. Comparing the degree of sentience between a dog and a person isn’t really going to be that helpful. It would be more like the degree of sentience of a person and the potential optimal sentience of that person as well as how that difference is responsible for the degree of suffering in that person. The initial comment was taking a newborn from the third group and sharing aspects of how she lived. The comment in response seemed to be an attempt to dehumanize her in spite of that. If it’s helpful to you or others to compare dogs and humans, that’s okay. To me, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. There are many differences between humans and dogs. Of relevance to this discussion and on the basis that people love their family pets, humans are our kin. Dogs are wild or domesticated animals. If you are having trouble understanding the difference between the inherent connection between a sister and brother and the admiration of a family pet, it would have to be a different discussion for a different time. Maybe you are seeing something I am not.

          1. I was probably being insensitive there. But much of the argument for keeping Alison alive (with, arguably, a very poor quality of life) seemed to be the family’s feelings towards her – feelings which (going by your description) Alison was probably incapable of comprehending.

            I don’t think those feelings offer much guidance on the subject – suppose Alison was an orphan, with no family to care for her, would that make a difference?

            I don’t think there is any qualitative difference (though there may be one of degree) between our feelings of affection for a person or a pet. There have been enough cases of siblings hating each other for me to discount ‘kinship’ as some sort of ‘special relationship’ – it may be, it may not, depending on cases.


          2. You’re fine. I’d rather not continue to get into this on here. We can email if you want. Whatever works. I’m at liz.strahle @ gmail Nice discussing with you and I’d be happy to continue. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

          3. I think you’re being very charitable considering my first comment was quite abrasive. Looking back at it I don’t know why I worded it that way.

            I appreciate the offer to continue the discussion but I think I’ve said enough.



  19. I don’t think philosophy offers much here either, since the answer to the main question really just comes down to personal opinion/sentiment.

    The anti-natalist movement argues that it is immoral to bring anyone into the world, whether they be deformed or not, because doing so inevitably increases suffering. The entire species should just be painlessly euthanized.

    1. The goal of philosophy in this case is to help you, your opponents, and the legal and policy framework come to principles and agreements we hopefully can all live with.

      1. Yes, I guess if philosophy = discourse. But there will never be universal consensus on these kinds of issues- and nor should we expect there to be, because it’s just a matter of personal opinion.

        1. Yes, how one comes down on this issue is a matter of personal opinion but if we are to form laws and public policy we can’t rely on just personal opinion. Philosophy can inform both our discourse and our decisions in this regard.

      2. The goal of philosophy in this case… ending with framework come to principles and agreements we hopefully can all live with. Can you not see….that we can all live with is a bit odd, when discussing euthanasia. With euthanasia and abortion many do not live. You then have the “them and us”. And we are making the rules on,” quality of life, ” someone elses life. I know of a young person, in a wheelchair, unable to speak, needing a caregiver, who has written a book, gone dux of a normal school, sky dived ,assisted, top photographer, and now controlling concert music with eye movements. Who has the right to wipe her out at birth. She can and has contributed more to society than most. This evil idea that some people have the right to snuff out what “they ” consider not perfect. must stop. Dementcia is on the rise, be careful what you wish for, some day someone might be standing over you deciding if society can pay to keep you here.Society should care not kill. The message assisted suicide gives is that suicide is okay.

        1. You’re dead wrong about the message, which is what you get but not many of us. I guess you’re anti-abortion, too, even in cases of incest or rape, right? Who has the right to snuff out a “rape baby”, even if the mom doesn’t want it?

          1. Jenny is right about the message.
            Permitting medicalized killing of the sick and the vulnerable who are viewed as financially burdensome sets a socially engineered trap, in which individual interests freely and legally gain access to a public resource (a health care system that provides unconditional specialized care for the suicidal or the seriously disabled or the terminally ill) and proceed to change it from unconditional palliative care to optional care together with the option of medically assisted suicide.

            A tragedy of the commons will unfold as the terminally ill or their carers are pressured subtly to accept the cheaper swifter option. This will lead eventually to depletion of the shared resource—the end of a truly universal, unconditional system of care for the terminally ill. A gradual reduction of specialists, hospices, palliative care resources and research dedicated to the needs of the terminally ill is therefore a typical ‘externality’ – i.e., the unintended and negative consequence of private decisions that ends up affecting everyone.

        2. And, honestly….why is ”assisted suicide” NOT ”okay?” I remember my dear uncle George…a man whose profession was repairing radios/tvs at a time when they all had tubes/wires, etc. Fine motor skills were a job requirement.

          In his mid-40s, he developed Parkinson’s disease, which robbed him of his body! Yes–he lost all motor skills, balance, even clear speech.

          When my aunt (his wife) died, he was put into assisted care, because none of us had the ability to take him and spend our lives helping him to the bathroom, catching him when he fell (which was nearly a daily event) and feeding/shaving/wiping his bottom, etc.

          Seriously, just because ONE disabled person has some ability to enjoy life…does it seem to you that assisted suicide must be forbidden?
          As I said somewhere else here…my uncle would literally BEG me to “help (him) die.”

          Life, especially being born is a huge ”crap-shoot.” Is it worth a terrible risk to keep a damaged child alive, without any possibility of motor skills, conscious thought, etc, simply because one in a million actually ”makes it?”

          What about the rest of those who will never ”make it?”

          How cruel can you be….essentially damning babies to a live of misery and enormous medical intervention/expense? Will those parents EVER have a child with normal ability? Or must they spend their entire lives on medical expenses and care for someone so damaged they have no possibility to “contribute?”

          And somehow, I doubt that the example you cite of a damaged child actually HAS ”contributed more than most?”

          More than whom?

          1. Why is assisted suicide not OK? Suicide and assisted suicide contravene the universal human rights principle of inalienability. Human beings cannot be deprived of the substance of their rights, not in any circumstances, not even at their own request.
            There is a genuine need to enact positive laws respecting key human rights principles:
            o The inherent right to life of the terminally ill and the suicidal is inalienable;
            o The terminally ill and the suicidal have the right to recognition of their inherent dignity;
            o The terminally ill and the suicidal have the right to security of person;
            o The autonomy of “end of life choices” is limited by the duty to secure the rights of all;
            o Human solidarity with the terminally ill and the suicidal must not be jeopardized.

            (1) Advocacy materials promoting suicide must be more strictly controlled so that positive programs for assisting persons at risk of suicide can achieve their full potential.
            (2) Education programmes emphasize the human person as the true source of human dignity and teach the inalienability of the inherent right to life.
            (3) Funding for genuine palliative care, research and programmes should be increased so that best practice end of life care becomes available not as a “choice” but as a duty for all of us to provide and as a right for everyone who is in need to receive.

    2. Given that so much of the philosophy we were just discussing in the Goldstein thread was admitted to be nearly unexplainable by even the philosophers themselves, I hate to see clear thinkers like Singer lumped in the same category.

      The sort of issues he deals with usually involve obtaining and citing data. Perhaps ethics should be spun off so as not to be tarred with the set of philosophers who are mostly navel-gazing.

      I really don’t know why we don’t just call this reasoning, or critical thinking.

      1. Diane, this is a philosophical discussion since it is about “ethics” which I consider to be the most “human” branch of philosophy. There is no easy solution here which is why this discussion is so lengthy and even emotionally painful. Science has nothing to add since the science in question is settled. The philosophy bashers who showed up in the Goldstein discussion yesterday have no place here. We are looking at another version of the “trolley problem” for which there is no “universal” rule to be applied. All one can do is look at all relevant aspects of the problem and come to one’s own conclusion.

        1. “…“ethics” which I consider to be the most “human” branch of philosophy.” Yes, which is why I suggested they should spin it off rather than keep it associated with all the BS.)

          “…look at all relevant aspects of the problem and come to one’s own conclusion.”
          Indeed. When we are making our decisions based on what the evidence tells us about survivability, expected quality of life, data from previous incidents of the same disorders, etc., how can you say that science doesn’t matter?

          (Of course there are human factors to consider, too–what are the desires of the parents?, for instance–but I fail to see how philosophy adds anything to our dealings with those.)

          1. Sorry, ethics is philosophy. Just who is going to spin it off?

            I didn’t say “science doesn’t matter.” Science is critical to our understanding of this ethical problem.

            Philosophy adds to our understanding of the problem by showing us there is no simple rule to be applied in this case, e.g., one’s religious beliefs about the sanctity of life are of little value here. As I noted above, this is an example of the “trolley problem.” Philippa Foote (a philosopher) developed the problem to illustrate how life’s most complex ethical problems aren’t amenable to solution by application of so-called “universal” rules.

            This entire thread is philosophical in nature. You are “doing” philosophy here whether you recognize it or not.

          2. Dale, the conversation you & I are having has played out here many times before and obviously we’re unlikely to reach common ground. (And I’m probably not quite as much the curmudgeon that this subject always seems to bring out in me…)

            Philippa Foote (a philosopher) developed the problem to illustrate how life’s most complex ethical problems aren’t amenable to solution by application of so-called “universal” rules.

            And see, the point here is that I resent the implication that the rest of us are so dense as to not grasp such an obvious truism. And just what “universal rules’ would those be? Of course you do allude to certain religious beliefs and no doubt the holders of those could use some outside help. Good luck with that. 😀

            Anyway, I appreciate your ardor and willingness to engage with me. I was once told that I’m more cynical than it’s healthy to be.

  20. “If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born? I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral. After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments…”

    1. If it would be legal to euthanase such an infant, then why not an older child, an adult or an elderly person?

    2. Why should the parents have a say? If the ‘life’ of such an infant is being supported by the state, as is often the case in the West, why shouldn’t the state have at least a share of the decision making?

    3. I’ve often wondered what goes through the mind of a baby/young child when adults fuss over it. Are we so sure that it is incapable or rational thought and calualtion? I’ve heard that babies smile at adults because they learn that that pleases the adults and it figures that that might be in its own best interests.

    I don’t have a strong view on the issue but am concerned about the slippery slopes I see.

    1. 1. An adult has thoughts, dreams, plans for the future, friends and maybe children who love and maybe need them, and all that. That’s an argument for granting adults autonomy and a right to life. Infants have at most a family that wants them, but if the family doesn’t want them, then the infant has nothing except future possibilities that are unknown and don’t exist yet. An adult in a vegetative state is much like an infant in this sense, though.

      2. Perhaps the state should have a say, but I think the parents should have the biggest say because the parents bear the biggest burden of raising the child. If parents don’t want to be saddled with a 50-year commitment to raise a severely disabled child – try changing a 200 lb. man’s diapers when you’re in your 80s – they shouldn’t have to be. The parents shouldn’t be forced into bankruptcy by the medical bills, etc.

      3. We don’t really know for sure, but it seems children don’t display signs that we associate with self-awareness until 18-24 months or something. How self-awareness correlates with thought or consciousness I don’t know. But I’m not much concerned about it either. We execute fully conscious criminals with families, bomb Afghanis in urban areas with predictable civilian deaths, etc. I’m not arguing in favor of those, but we (as a society) can’t make a consistent argument that we need to protect infants because they might be conscious and that’s somehow sacred while doing these other things…

      1. “The parents shouldn’t be forced into bankruptcy by the medical bills, etc.” But we all are already in that boat: the #1 reason Americans go into bankruptcy is due to a medical emergency they can’t afford.

        1. That’s a side issue. The medical emergencies to which you refer are unpredictable events.

          The medical costs of keeping a severely disabled person alive for decades are very predictable. Should the parents ruin their lives for the (doubtful) benefit of giving life to a barely sentient cripple?


  21. I don’t see why we shouldn’t go even further. We allow abortions for any reason – not just severe deformities – including the financial health or just plain convenience of the parents. I think that is good, in that it’s better both for parents and children for a child to be wanted rather than unwanted.

    So why not the same for infants? I know the standard for an abortion of convenience is “viability”, but I don’t really see what ethical difference that makes.

    1. You allow abortions right up to the moment of birth for such reasons as financial concerns or simply not wanting the baby?

      Anyway, the reason not to extend that beyond birth is that once a baby id born it is no longer dependent on its mother for survival. If a healthy baby is born but is not wanted by its biological parents, it can be adopted.

      1. I think in the US the legal standard and limit for abortions of convenience is “viability”, which is like a 50% chance of survival outside the womb with intensive hospital care, which is codified as 20-24 weeks’ gestation.

        I don’t see how dependence on the mother’s body – it’s still fully dependent on others – for survival makes an ethical difference, though. It’s a difference, sure, but an ethical one?

  22. Newborns cannot kill themselves. Therefore assisted suicide does not apply to them.

    In the early 1990s Peter Singer was prevented to give a talk at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, when a group of disabled people in wheelchairs and left wing activists started shouting “Singer raus” (Singer get out of here) before he could say a word. In the tumult, Singer wrote on the blackboard “So sagten die Nazis meinen Eltern: Juden raus!” (so said the Nazis to my parents: Jews get out of here!). At this point one from the mob jumped on him, grabbed his glasses and threw them on the floor. And the talk was over before it could start. I was among the public and that night I had the worst experience ever at university.

    1. But exceedingly memorable, eh? Few things are as scary as humans in mobs.

      Singer reminds me a bit of Sam Harris, in his fearlessness in discussing conventionally verboten topics. I think it takes a bit of courage on their parts; and some sacrifices.

  23. I debated euthanasia twice in my course work over the years. In both cases, I defended the idea that active euthanasia was more humane and hence ethically preferable (to passive) in general. I was *pilloried*, though nobody could articulate why, exactly.

    1. Passive euthanasia is naturally restricted to those who cannot perform a life function on their own. Active euthanasia can be performed on anybody.

  24. This is a very unpleasant conversation which is unneeded as the situation is purely hypothetical. The omnibenevolent god would never allow such a child to be born.

    1. An omnibenevolent god would never allow any children to be born; to exist is to suffer.

      The most humane solution is to have the entire species painlessly euthanized.

        1. Even if you’re all powerful, sometimes you get out of bed and find you just don’t have it that day…

  25. Here’s the case of an 11-month old terminally ill infant. The infant has severe irreversible brain damage. Here the question being posed is whether or not to subject him to experimental treatment that may prolong such life as he’s got or to let him die:

    Charlie’s condition at present is one in which he is capable of experiencing pain and little else. The ventilator he is attached to is not a lifeline to improvement or any benefit for Charlie, but rather tethers him to pain. His age alone makes pain a more significant burden than it can be for others—infants, even infants without the serious brain injury Charlie has sustained, cannot comprehend a greater good or reason for their pain, but can only experience it. Continuation of treatment comes at Charlie’s expense.

    1. I think it’s ironic that such claims come from the medical community which up till just recently was convinced that infants feel no pain.

  26. In 1951 my older brother was born. He was extremely premature and was put in an incubator. He (and many other premies then) ended up blind because high oxygen levels in the incubator destroyed the retina. What my parents did not know til later was that, even though they were prepared for dealing with a blind kid, during the birth, the birth cord wrapped around my brother’s neck and cut off his oxygen, causing severe brain damage. This they were not prepared for. My brother is still “alive” now, 65 years later, but he’s never had much of a life, never learned to talk, and has been dependent on the state his entire life. The rest of us kids were neglected and starved (when I was 16, the doctor told my mom that my sisters and I looked like concentration camp survivors, whereas my brother was overweight) as my parents focused exclusively on my brother. Yeah–I resented this and so did the rest of us kids. I still would not wish that on anyone else. How long my brother lives is still up to the state which supports the group home where he is living.

    1. Thanks for highlighting an important part of this debate.

      I think you have every right to be resentful.

  27. “If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?”

    The premise here is that there’s essentially no difference between a fetus and a born baby. This is indeed a slippery slope, but it has nothing to do with Nazi-like euthanasia. The conclusions that follow logically from this premise are two, neither of which is palatable:

    If you are allowed to abort a fetus without a genetic defect (as is currently allowed under Roe vs Wade), then you should be allowed to euthanize the same fetus after it’s born, even if it’s healthy.

    If you’re not allowed to euthanize a born baby unless it has a genetic defect, then you should be not allowed to abort a fetus unless it has a genetic defect.

    Take your pick.

    1. I agree with your logic but see nothing unpalatable about option #1. We kill healthy people and other sentient animals all the time in our society, be they criminals, pigs, or civilians predictably in the way of our constant bombing campaigns. So why not infants, who have less to lose than any of those? It’s not like we as a society believe life is sacred or anything! 😛

  28. For these views Singer has been demonized by disability rights advocates, who have called for his firing and disrupted his talks (see my post about that here). All for just raising a reasonable ethical question that should be considered and discussed!

    Of course the concerns of the functionally challenged can be understood. That *some* controversial talks are suppressed seems somewhat more effective than entirely free speech, hate speech laws correlates with less violence.

    But the abject pain and misery of these newborn have priority. And discussing this is not hate speech. On the contrary, it turns a light on functional problems, and ideally it would help – violence of disrupted talks does not.

      1. That’s one of those dreadful euphemisms that makes me cringe.

        ‘Differently abled’ (quite aside from the violence that using ‘able’ as a verb does to grammar) implies that, while they lack some ability ordinary people have, they do have some other ability ordinary people do not. I have yet to be told what that ability is.


  29. I have argued before that euthanasia, while considered (even by determinists) an expression of free agency, is too often imposed upon individuals who have diminished or zero decision-making ability, and those who impose it benefit from the death, e.g. Michael Schiavo or – in this case – the parents of disabled children. I’d wish the stigma for leaving a disabled child at an institution to be removed before active euthanasia for these children is allowed. Otherwise, what is presented as “act of mercy to stop the suffering of the child” will often be motivated by the simple desire of parents to prevent their expected suffering as caregivers.

    1. I doubt that there is statistics on caregiver expectancy.

      Anyway, if we look at abortions, they seem rarely motivated by that. So much so that there is no such discussion on abortion here in Sweden. When US pulled out from economical support for help organizations if they gave abortion assistance, our agency recently responded with pulling out for such organizations that folded US anti-abortionism. That is the caregiver expectancy context I know of, it has no official pull here – access to abortions increase health, no other considerations necessary.

      1. “access to abortions increase health, no other considerations necessary.”

        This is ridiculously simplistic, like the argument that the death penalty for murderers doesn’t prevent further murders; it clearly does prevent the murderers who are executed from murdering further. Similarly, abortions clearly do not increase the health of the fetuses who are aborted—a not insignificant “consideration” given the millions of abortions performed annually worldwide.

      2. I think it’s reasonable to assume that abortions of children with deformities is largely done because the parents don’t want such children. I don’t want such a child either, and I think most people would be disappointed at best to discover a severe problem with their unborn child.

        But I also think that’s completely reasonable on the part of the parents.

      3. The caregiver expectancy very often stands behind abortion, particularly when the fetus is disabled, or even when it is apparently normal but the mother is single, young, or at an important step in her career.
        I have no problem with such abortions (though I’d still wish removal of the stigma for leaving a baby for adoption). However, I have a problem with euthanizing a baby out of unwillingness to care for him when he is already born and could be moved to someone else’s care. It is very easy to offer a palatable motivation. Who would doubt that a disabled newborn suffers? Perfectly normal newborns spend most of their waking hours crying in obvious pain!

  30. I’m reminded of some of my anthropology courses in which we read works by those who’d studied the Inuit (who practice euthanasia).

    They have a saying that translates roughly to “When life becomes heavier than death”; that pretty much summarizes the whole thing in my mind.

  31. “I’m reminded of some of my anthropology courses in which we read works by those who’d studied the Inuit (who practice euthanasia).” Dude, everyone practiced the fine art of letting old people perish when they were near their natural expiry date before nursing homes got popular. Did you go to university on an ice pan?

    1. When my mother developed Alzheimer’s the hard part was not when she was in assisted living, and then hospice, because she hadn’t been herself for many years.

      The hard part was her wanting me to promise, as the disease progressed, to never put her in “a home” and to find a way to kill her before she lost her mind entirely.(I agreed to the first one, wouldn’t talk about the second one.) But I will say that at my lowest point I murder/suicide seemed to be the only way out for both of us.

        1. EXACTLY! A friend works on the ”bio-ethics” committee for a large health insurance organization. They’ve been spending weeks in discussion about the issue of self-determination of patients with conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc. What boggles me is this…they are working out ways for their doctors to be “comfortable” but refuse to consider helping a now-lucid person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s!

          So, essentially, even though I’m horrified at the idea of living out my life in diapers, drooling, mindless (should I be struck with Alz.) they want their doctors to be warm and cozy because they needn’t make decisions to help me die on my own terms.

          California has a “death with dignity” law but it applies to conditions like cancer or ALS. So far, nobody cares about those of us doomed to lose mind and dignity at some distant point.

          And, lest you think I’ve veered off the subject…how could we possibly condemn a severely damaged infant to a life of pain, confusion and financial disaster for the parents? The story of Prince’s child (above) is a horror story!

          1. I couldn’t agree more! Well said.

            (“Bioethics” and “large health insurance organization” strike me as essentially antithetical from the get-go…)

          2. In the largest sense, that committee deals with needed issues and I’m glad they do it (although they’re not MY carrier.) I was VERY disappointed to learn that their entire focus was on how to help doctors with ”moral” issues about abortion, ”death with dignity” and so forth. NOT the patients…the doctors.

    2. Using a different computer to obviate a ban, eh? Not only that, but you’ve insulted another commenter. I respectfully ask you to get the hell off my website; you’ve committed multiple Roolz violations.

      Ruse git, you are.

    3. With the Inuit it’s not restricted to the elderly.

      It is the elderly, but also, anyone else for whom life has become heavier than life: including infants, children, and adults.

  32. I tend to side with Peter Sanger here. However (the dreaded ‘but’), it is not easy.
    OK, we’re talking category 3 here. Alport syndrome? I’say yes, euthanise.
    Usher syndrome, deaf and becoming blind at an early age? But rarely mentally retarded. I tend to a ‘no’ there, despite being a ‘burden on society’.
    What about Williams syndrome (the ‘pixies’/’fairies’)? Although severely mentally disabled (they cannot live independently), they appear to enjoy life, possibly more than many of us, and many are musically gifted. I’d say no. And even less autism (which generally only diagnosed after the age of MMR 😆).
    The potential of a slippery slope is obviously present, more reason to have a discussion about some clear rules and guidelines.

    Here in South Africa, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is more common than all other birth defects combined. The severity can vary, from completely, deeply disabled, to just mildly retarded. They are often adorable children, and keen to please. They have difficult lives, especially when puberty kicks in and often become promiscuous and being ‘taken advantage of’. It is not so much about euthanasia here, but more about sterilisation: is it indicated in the severe cases? Or just injectable contraceptives?

    1. To hell with the mothers that would do this to their own unborn child, though it doesn’t exist. To be so self-obssessed to have to continue drinking during pregnancy is beyond belief.

    2. I knew a woman who had fostered several children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. “Their mothers had damaged them, brought them to the world and then walked away from them,” she said. As adults (they remained in contact with her) their main problem was breaking the law. They were impulsive, with poor control and just stole things they wanted. Because they were not visibly abnormal, this was perceived by others as criminal behavior, not as disability. They measured their success in life by the number of months they managed to stay out of prison.

      1. Most FAS children are visibly abnormal, but only subtly so: small stature for age, no filtrum, squint, etc.
        However, you can’t just abort or euthanise at birth,since we cannot tell how serious it is going to be.
        A lose-lose situation.

  33. Agree 100% with Singer’s arguments for euthanizing infants – it’s compassionate. I was unprepared for Comstock’s essay which hit me hard. Tears falling. I don’t know why I can so easily summon a visual picture of this scene but it’s haunting. Perhaps a parent’s worst nightmare.

      1. +100

        Perhaps somewhat due to a bit of culturally instilled sexism I was totally unprepared for how emotionally vulnerable I became. Still am.

        Just yesterday I picked my daughter up from the airport. She had been gone for about a month. By the time she was making her way from the plane to me I was shaking. By the time she got to me it was all I could do to not break into tears. WTF?

        While she and her brother were gone (actually her brother is not back yet) I had several sleepless nights because I could not stop my mind from churning out one horrible scenario after another involving them being mistreated, in danger, maimed or killed.

        1. “Perhaps somewhat due to a bit of culturally instilled sexism I was totally unprepared for how emotionally vulnerable I became.”

          That’s insightful. I don’t think I ever loved my husband more than when he was totally smitten with our newborns…”culturally instilled sexism” affects all of our expectations, I guess. Thank goodness we became parents when paternal expectations had shifted from rather distant bread-winner to it’s OK to be a hands-on Dad…

          I remember thinking the craziest things. Like, Reagan & Gorbachev are both fathers–why didn’t the profundity of becoming such cause them to abandon all the silly historical crap and immediately find common ground in just making the world decent enough for the futures of all the heart-breakingly innocent and vulnerable little babies?

          I also found myself resenting that I’d spent all those years building my protective shell of cynicism only to have it fly out the window, leaving me more vulnerable than ever. Then profoundly saddened to realize that my kids would have to start building their shells…

          Can’t believe I dare admit this… 😀

          1. Diane, I think I can really relate to all of that.

            The kids starting to build their shells, that’s a tough one. That’s where we are right now. From the get go with them we have tried to prevent just that kind of thing, but it’s still happening. Though hopefully they will be less inhibited than they may otherwise have been.

        2. Great! You love your kids! Embrace it, don’t fight it as “problematic” like apparently half of the people on this website.

          If you are unconformable with the implication of the “naturalness”, or the “not chosen by my sovereign rational self-will-ness”, that is another issue, but don’t analyze it away. It is GOOD!! 🙂

          1. I’m not sure what may have given you the idea that I have ever fought such a thing or find it problematic or have any urge to analyze it away. I wonder if you are perhaps biased a bit by a cliche stereotype of science type people being coldly rational, socially inept and out of touch with their feelings. I assure you it isn’t true!

            In any case, I am not a scientist or an academic.

          2. On behalf of half the people on this website:

            Loving your kids is good! They’re your kids, and if you don’t, nobody else will.

            What we dispute is whether it’s ‘love’ to bring a severely damaged individual into the world, or whether the cost is far too great – for the individual, and – inescapably – for the family. Handwaving that away with piosity about ‘love’ or ‘human values’ does nobody a service.


      2. “I was never so emotionally vulnerable as I was when I had young children. Nobody warns you…”

        I agree totally. Perhaps the most moving account of that vulnerability is this beautiful passage from Anna Karenina about Levin’s reaction to seeing his newborn baby for the first time:

        “‘Look, now,’ said Kitty, turning the baby so that he could see it. The aged-looking little face suddenly puckered up still more and the baby sneezed. Smiling, hardly able to restrain his tears, Levin kissed his wife and went out of the dark room. What he felt towards this little creature was utterly unlike what he had expected. There was nothing cheerful and joyous in the feeling; on the contrary, it was a new torture of apprehension. It was the consciousness of a new sphere of liability to pain. And this sense was so painful at first, the apprehension lest this helpless creature should suffer was so intense, that it prevented him from noticing the strange thrill of senseless joy and even pride that he had felt when the baby sneezed.”

    1. I am not a parent, and one of the reasons I am not is that I saw “The Offspring” (_Star Trek: The Next Generation_) as a young teen and it stuck with me every time I thought about it. Eventually I realized one of the reasons I could not be a parent is that for some reason (more than any fiction, almost as much as the “real life scenarios” like the above one) I could not bear to hear about a child dying in pain and fear.

      1. My decision to remain child-free I can trace back to one evening’s Geography homework. List of estimated global populations over the last 2 centuries ; interpret.
        This was about 3 months before we started calculus in Maths, but after we’d done series. So … I worked out a model that fit the data (I got to a “doubling time” concept, but not all the way to exponential functions, but when it arose in Maths class, I recognised it). And the conclusion was obvious. It took a while (~15 years) to get the problem fixed, but fixed it was.

  34. Every time these emotionally powerful discussions progress, I am reminded that- for me, certainly- this is possible because Prof. Coyne reads every comment and enforces roolz, making this place an oasis for civil discussion that I haven’t found elsewhere.

  35. It is my understanding that most arguments for abortion are more about the mother and her control over her own body – should she be forced to bear a child that probably will not survive.

    Once the baby has been born, it is no longer a burden to the mother’s body and the math changes.

  36. You write:
    “If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect… … then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born? I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral.”

    Well, you are also *allowed* to abort a fetus for any reason. So do you also “see no substantive difference” between that and euthanizing an otherwise healthy baby who was born a week earlier?

    If a woman could abort a fetus at 35-weeks because, for example, she no longer liked the father and did not want the child to remind her of him – why not the same choice if the father ends up arrested for unknown crimes a week post birth?

    If not, does that mean you also subscribe to this apparently irrational/religious idea about acquiring a soul in the magic birth canal? As you say, “After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death” and “Since the newborn can’t decide, it’s up to the parents”…

  37. So, if someone claims some adult is defective are we to be allowed to euthanize that person. He is supporting a slippery slope that ends when anyone is allowed to be killed for any reason supported by authority.

    1. I’d read Chapter 7 of Peter Singer’s “Practical Ethics” (3rd edition), which is on this topic. There you’ll find the answers to the “slippery slope” objection. One is that this simply hasn’t happened in Belgium or the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia of adults is permitted so long as several strict conditions are satisfied.

  38. I agree w David Bentley Hart that issues such as this show the vast difference between those who hold the anti-philosophical materialistic position and those who believe in a transcendent God who made humanity in his image. This blog argues for Aktion T4 all over again. It is shameful.

    1. It’s a pity there is no evidence for a transcendent God who made humanity in his image, isn’t it? What you really want to believe simply doesn’t seem to be true, while there’s all the evidence in the cosmos for the truth of naturalism. This really disturbs you, I bet.


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