Six days ago I wrote a post, based on a New York Times piece, arguing that the parents of newborns who were doomed to die, who had a “hopeless prognosis” involving unbearable suffering, or who would have to live their lives wedded to intensive care and respirators, should have the legal right—with appropriate ethical strictures and doctors’ approval—to end the lives of their newborns in a merciful way, perhaps with an injection. I gave my reasons for thinking this in my piece “Should one be allowed to euthanize severely deformed or doomed newborns?” My answer was a qualified “yes,” and in that I agree with philosopher Peter Singer.
Singer has been demonized for his opinion by both religious believers and also by handicapped people who argue that they wouldn’t have wanted to be euthanized as infants if they had the choice. Singer’s talks have picketed and disrupted, and people have even called for his firing from Princeton for merely suggesting the idea of newborn euthanasia. Yet I think that discussing this idea is very worthwhile.
Now I’m being criticized as well, and I expected it. Both the creationist Discovery Institute (in its organ Evolution News) and the conservative National Review have gone after my piece. In the former venue, Michael Egnor, who’s obsessed with me, blames my views on “materialism and Darwinism” (they’re not; they’re based on moral philosophy), compares me to the Nazi doctors who did odious medical experiments (he even shows a photo of them on trial), and says that NO euthanasia, nor even any abortions, can be morally justified. He does, however, allow “withdrawal of care” in terminal newborns because that differs from euthanasia:
There are situations in which continuation of heroic medical treatment (surgery, respirators, antibiotics, etc.) merely prolongs the process of dying, and in which it is ethical to withdraw such heroic care. I have done it many times (I’m a pediatric neurosurgeon). But the purpose of the withdrawal is not to cause death, but to cease interfering with the natural course of a disease, when no good can come of heroic treatment. That is a very different thing, morally and legally, from deliberately killing a child by injecting him with a lethal dose of potassium or a barbiturate.
I disagree with the morality bit, but won’t get into that now.
The National Review also linked me with Nazism, claiming that “Darwinism leads to infanticide acceptance” and saying that my scientific materialism leads people to reject evolution because I couple Darwinism “with anti-humanism and a moral philosophy that was judged a crime against humanity at Nuremberg.” Sorry, but I don’t advocate experimenting on babies or gassing and shooting innocent civilians.
I stand by what I said in my piece. Were I to rewrite my post, though, I’d add that it’s more than just religious people who object to Singer’s and my views on both assisted suicide of rational, terminally ill people as well as to euthanasia of desperately ill newborns. Yes, religious people are big objectors to these practices (and lobbied against assisted suicide when it was made legal in several states), but so are some disabled people who don’t base their objections on religious views. And I should have mentioned those arguments. But their objections haven’t altered my views on the value of discussing the issue of the euthanasia of newborns. And I still think that it’s justified in some cases.
Anyway, readers have written in strongly criticizing my views, and I’ll post some of their comments here rather than continue the discussion in a week-old thread. I have approved their comments on the original site (or will as soon as I publish this), but have directed them here to continue the discussion. Feel free to continue it in the comments on this post rather than the other one.
“ritajoseph” wrote three comments:
In reply to zoolady.
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.
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.
In reply to zoolady.
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.
And reader Bill Franklin said this:
“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”…
I have my own responses to these comments (e.g., Bill Franklin completely misunderstands my argument), but I have other things to write about today and so will let readers continue the arguments below. As soon as this goes up, both ritajoseph and Bill Franklin will be directed here.
All I can say is that it’s ridiculous to call someone a Nazi for suggesting an idea like this. By all means give your counterarguments, but avoid the character assassination,