More outrage from the Right and the religious about infant euthanasia

July 30, 2017 • 10:00 am

UPDATE: Reader Pyers called my attention to a thoughtful piece by Melanie Phillips that analyzes the Gard case. She argues that the parents’ hopes may have been kept alive by the vociferous, bullying, and life-at-all-costs American Right:

But here’s the really wicked thing about all this. The parents were reinforced in their refusal to accept this tragic situation, and the whole court process pointlessly prolonged, because of the pressure largely emanating from activists and media on the American political right (along with right-to-life campaigners) screaming that a baby was about to be killed by a socialised health care “death panel” enforced by the British government. This campaign led the parents to believe that such pressure could change the court’s mind. And so the parents were reinforced in their refusal to face reality.

. . . I write a great deal about the ideological bullying of the left, the lies published by left-wing media and the inhumanity and irrationality of so much allegedly progressive thinking. But I have never witnessed such concentrated ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and unthinking cruelty as has been displayed by the American political right over the tragic case of Charlie Gard.



The public outrage continues about my post on whether we might consider euthanizing newborn babies with terminal conditions who are suffering horribly. All the articles about it, most of them expressing shock and horror at the notion, have appeared on either right-wing or religious websites, which tells you something. I’ve also received pretty nasty emails and phone calls from people who can’t even bear to consider the idea of putting a suffering, soon-to-be-dead infant out of its misery (see here, and here).

Predictably, my evolutionary biology background is sometimes held responsible, as if my views come from a Darwinian idea that we should help natural selection along, because doing that is good. That criticism, based on the naturalistic fallacy, holds no water, as my views have nothing to do with evolution and everything to do with compassion and philosophy. After all, if I really believed that what evolution does is good and should be promoted, I should have had a passel of children. But I am childless, with the only “Jerry Coynes” being cats.

It’s also clear that the opposition to infant euthanasia is underlain by human exceptionalism: the view that while it’s okay to euthanize terminally ill and suffering adult cats and dogs, who can’t give consent, we can’t do that for suffering and terminally sick infants who also can’t give consent. Much of that exceptionalism comes from religion, but I will grant that some does not. But in what respects are humans qualitatively different from dogs, cats, and other primates? Well, we alone know that we’re going to die, and we also have an idea of futurity, so we look forward to the rest of our lives (well, most of us do). But those aren’t characteristics of newborns, so to me they don’t count as reasons why we need to keep a dying child alive but can euthanize a dying dog. And many human infants share with both adult and infant animals the ability to suffer, but adult animals often exceed newborns in their degree of rationality and sentience. So what makes humans different from other animals are not qualities present in newborns; these “exceptional” qualities appear later in development.

I’ll also grant that not all opposition to euthanasia of infants comes from religion: some comes from the disabled who put themselves in the place of an infant about to be euthanized. The other day I got an outraged call, for instance, from a woman with spina bifida, who accused me of wanting to have her “snuffed out.” But there are degrees of that impairment, and it’s not at all clear that such infants would always be put to death by parents, or that rational guidelines for euthanasia wouldn’t deem such infants as candidates for adoption. Further, one has to consider that those severely disabled people who are now grown up and can consider their situation wouldn’t even be in that position had they been given euthanasia as newborns. This is not an argument for euthanizing every sick or deformed infant, of course, but one has to take the parent’s willingness and ability to give care—often lifelong—to children with severe illness.

At any rate, all I’m proposing is that we should think about this issue, and suggest that it would be merciful in some cases to put terminally ill or severely deformed infants to death rather than allowing them to suffer. I see no point in allowing such suffering to continue when there is no point to it, and when the child is certain or almost certain to die soon.

The case of Charlie Gard in England, which Heather Hastie just discussed on her website, is one example. The infant, born in England about a year ago, began showing signs of illness, and it was discovered that he had a severe form of “encephalomyopathy mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome” (MDDS), a genetic disease which causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage.  It’s nearly always terminal, and in Charlie’s case it was certainly terminal. The infant was soon on both a respirator and feeding tube, and had brain damage exacerbated by seizures. His medical team, and then the courts, decided that Charlie should have only palliative care and that there was no hope for his survival.

An American doctor said he had an experimental treatment that might improve Charlie’s condition (see Heather’s post for more information), but it turned out that he didn’t, and the British courts didn’t permit the infant to be moved to the U.S. for this treatment. They further ruled that Charlie, who was by now deaf and had failing kidneys as well as an inability to breathe on his own, should be moved to a hospice-like facility and the ventilator withdrawn. That happened on July 27, and the next day Charlie died.

Note here that British courts ruled that a suffering and terminally ill child should be put out of his suffering by withdrawing breathing assistance. That is a decision to take action that has a predictable consequence: Charlie’s death. What is the moral difference between doing that and putting Charlie to death earlier with an injection? That’s illegal in Britain, but should it be?

Of course, Charlie’s parents wanted to keep him alive, and those wishes should be heavily weighed in such cases, but in the end the courts and medical team overruled the parents’ initial wishes, something I don’t think is legal in America. At any rate, had the parents wished Charlie to be euthanized once his terminal condition was known, I can’t see a rational objection to that which at the same time allows withdrawing respiratory aid.

As Heather points out, Charlie’s parents eventually agreed that withdrawing life support was the right thing to do, but they were opposed by many Christians, including the Vatican. There were even death threats and abusive letters sent to the Great Ormond Street Hospital where Charlie was being treated.

This shows the degree of emotion that such cases arouse, and the resistance to withdrawing life support in even terminal cases. The resistance is even greater if one considers the possibility of euthanasia for a child like Charlie. I think it would have been more merciful for Charlie’s parents to at least have had that possibility. Suppose he had lingered for a day or two after respiration was withdrawn, gasping and fighting for breath before he died? How is that preferable to an injection that peacefully ends his life?

Well, the stories continue to accumulate explicitly or implicitly attacking my suggestion that euthanasia might be the most merciful choice in such cases. Here are a few articles, with excerpts below them (click on screenshots to go to article):

“Does Coyne really believe that we should treat humans like dogs and cats?” Dr. Richard Weikart, a professor at California State University and author of “Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich,” wrote in a column for Evolution News.

“Ultimately, Coyne doesn’t think humans are any different from other animals, and this justifies euthanasia,” National Review columnist Jeff Cimmino wrote.

“Unfortunately, Coyne has a platform to teach students at a respectable university. One can only hope that his students see through and reject his misguided, poorly constructed arguments.”

I don’t even have a platform to teach students: I’m retired and am not allowed to teach any longer. You’d think Newsmax would at least check on this. And of course I’ve never even broached this topic in my introductory evolution course or any graduate or undergraduate course I’ve taught.

Comparison to Hitler’s program are rife, but there is not a chance in the world that any Western country would permit the kind of euthanasia that happened even at the beginning of the Reich’s extermination program. (No relatives, for example, were even asked, and were often lied to about what happened.)

Surprisingly, the Daily Caller‘s piece is straightforward reporting with no implicit editorializing:

Coyne cites Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer and argues that such newborns’ lives should be terminated not only with the withdrawal of care, but also via injection, provided the doctors and parents’ consent.

“After all, we euthanize our dogs and cats when to prolong their lives would be torture, so why not extend that to humans?” reasons the professor. “Dogs and cats, like newborns, can’t make such a decision, and so their caregivers take the responsibility.”

Coyne believes that religion distinguishes between humans, cats and dogs, deeming the former group “special.” He believes that “when religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to Coyne and the University of Chicago for comment, but received none in time for publication.

In contrast, the Right-wing National Review was outraged:

The evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne, writes a blog entitled, “Why Evolution is True.” One would think that by choosing that title, Coyne should restrict his discussions to questions of science that touch on questions and explanations about how and why life changes over time.  But Coyne — as many Darwinists do — takes the question beyond science, and extrapolates evolutionary theory into questions of morality, philosophy, and ethics. And now, he is promoting the propriety of infanticide. [JAC: I said NOTHING about evolution, and my views don’t derive from evolution at all.]

. . . Coyne’s odious advocacy is the logical outcome of accepting the following premises: That human life does not have unique value simply and merely because it is human, and; That eliminating suffering is the overriding purpose of society — allowing the elimination of the sufferer. Many scientists bemoan the fact that so many people refuse to accept evolution as a fact. Without getting into that controversy, perhaps they would be better off ruing the fact that ever since Darwin published The Origin of Species, so many of the promoters of that view also couple it with anti-humanism and a moral philosophy that was judged a crime against humanity at Nuremberg.

There’s the Nazi comparison again, as well as a gross distortion of my views. And note that this magazine, which I thought was respectable, avers that whether evolution is true is a “controversy.” Note to National Review: are you really going to argue that there’s some doubt about whether evolution happened? I wouldn’t dig my trench there were I you!

More excoriation came from the site of Milo Yiannopoulos, a man whose right to speak I’ve defended several times. And I defend his right to criticize me, even using a misguided and kneejerk rejection of euthanasia. The piece doesn’t say much, but does include some feedback from Twitter. I’ve included a few tweets.

Assisted suicide? That can’t even happen in infants!!!!  Here are some tweets:

I want to ask these people again: if you had an infant who was suffering with a terminal condition, and might live with that suffering for days or even months, and that death after suffering was almost certainly the outcome, why would you prefer it to suffer instead of ending its life swiftly and painlessly? What is the point?

And, of course, many of these sites, as well as their readers, didn’t even consider the nuances and qualifications I discussed about the idea of infant euthanasia. Their attitude was this:

117 thoughts on “More outrage from the Right and the religious about infant euthanasia

  1. Jerry, Sorry that you are taking so much abuse for initiating a long-needed discussion. I laughed at the comment “Does Coyne really believe that we should treat humans like dogs and cats?” because that means that this person prefers that we treat humans WORSE than our pets.

    1. I don’t feel abused–this is what you get for taking a controversial stand in public. What surprises me is that people seem unwilling to THINK about the issue. I find the Nazi comparisons ludicrous, and I’m learning about the depth of human exceptionalism in our psyche.

      Yes, few humans get treated as well as Hili, for example.

      1. People do seem unwilling to THINK about this, but I strongly suspect many will be thinking about it for the first time. You have to start somewhere to change the zeitgeist. Thanks for taking the stand in public.

        1. +1.

          One of the reasons I’ve started addressing this is because in recent years polling in NZ has shown a rapidly increasing level of support for assisted dying. Support is now so high that a politician from a minor party has had the courage to introduce an End of Life Choice bill. It will go through the normal select committee process, and hopefully be introduced into law next year.

          It’s been tried before, but didn’t make it that time. I don’t know what the chances are this time, though they’re better than before. We’ve now got a devout Catholic prime minister after 17 years of atheist ones, and he’s made it clear he’s voting against the bill.

          1. Does the Catholic prime minister have veto power? Or does he just get one vote like other representatives?

          2. Definitely not. He gets one vote just like everyone else.

            Technically, the Queen has veto power. She never uses it, and there would be a public outcry if she even considered it. Even the most staunch monarchists would be opposed to such a move.

            In fact, a majority of NZers don’t even realize the Queen has veto power.

          3. On the other hand our last PM, John Key, though probably an atheist, was as politically opportunist as Trump (though a much smoother operator). His conscience vote would have gone wherever it suited him best politically. Any trust I had in John Key to do the right thing in any situation was zero.

            Although Bill English’s vote would be against the bill, I’m hoping he wouldn’t feel obliged to try and pressure his colleagues into voting the same way. So I’m not sure English would be any worse than Key in that respect.

            I should add that in NZ, a politician’s religion is normally never considered an issue or even mentioned, except on rare occasions like this.

            As an aside – in my view the hospice movement should strongly avoid being dragged into the debate and used as a pawn by the ‘pro-lifers’ – as they are trying to do (in the same way they are trying with Downs organisations). It can only damage them.


          4. I worry about the Hospice vote too. They do wonderful work, so the last thing I want to do is diss them. However, they have been dragged into this before on the opposition side.

            I’m hoping it will be like the marriage equality debate where the churches started in opposition, but saw it was damaging them because the public were so strongly in favour of same-sex marriage, so they shut up.

          5. Surely not! Being a source of all morality the churches would stand firm in their beliefs, unswayed by mere popularity.

            I can only hope something similar occurs on this side of the ditch.

  2. The result is always the same. Instead of reasoned discussion and debate about a tricky subject – just attack the messenger. Something that any idiot can do. Also misrepresent the views, another fine tactic. The infant issue is no different than the very large issue we have with the elderly. How much suffering should they endure? We are beginning to allow some relief with living wills and legal documents filed ahead of time that will allow you to die with some dignity but if you do not create any of these things prior to your getting there, good luck to you. We do know this, the cost of Medicare goes up a huge amount in the last months/year of life. This also should be open to discussion.

    1. The cost of keeping a medically fragile child alive is enormous as well. Another cost is the need for the parents to devote much of the lives to its care.

        1. So true. And it’s considered virtuous to care for elderly parents. During my mother’s final year, I faced enormous pressure from my family to spend more time caregiving at the expense of my husband, my preschool child, and my students. This was simply the norm for my family.

          Should caring for your parents at the end of life be more important than raising your own children and doing your share at work?

          1. Another very important practical point.

            One reason for having kids is the hope that they’ll look after you when you’re old and feeble. Most societies are implicitly built on this assumption.

            Have a seriously crippled kid and the whole thing is stood on its head. YOU have to look after the kid all its life**. You may well be too busy caring for it to have other kids, or you seriously neglect them. And if it lives long enough and you become old and feeble or die first, what happens then?

            This is all highly relevant, even though the pro-lifers would rather pretend it isn’t.

            (** What? You were expecting the State to? Can someone tell me why the taxpayer should pick up the tab for YOUR decision?)

          2. The state does pay a substantial amount for medical expenses and reimbursement for special education services for children with disabilities. The decisions are hard to make. For infants who are terminally ill and in pain, euthanasia makes sense. But a child at risk for severe disability might end up with only a mild disability.

          3. I was being fairly rhetorical there.

            But the fact remains, for any severely disabled long-living person who is dependent on their family to care for them, the outlook is fairly bleak as they age. I don’t think living in an institution can be very much fun.


          4. I am happy to pay taxes to help families with disabled children. I think its the sign of a careing and advanced society. But i completly sympathsise with the article.

          5. I’m happy to pay taxes to help support disadvantaged people of all kinds, including the unemployed and me-in-my-old-age and families with disabled children.

            But the available funds are not limitless and the arithmetic is always there that, the fewer disadvantaged there are, the more there is for *each* needy person.

            So gratuitously creating more disadvantaged people is entirely reckless and irresponsible.


          6. So who would?

            I just said many societies have traditionally been built on that expectation.

            In modern society often the State does that instead (which I regard as a huge improvement since the consequent ultimately-suicidal-for-the-human-race imperative to have lots of kids no longer operates).

            I too would like to be independent of my kids in my old age. That’s a luxury of modern society. Also one reason why I pay taxes all my working life.

            The point is, if someone has a Downs kid who needs looking after, and if the kid doesn’t die early, they should survive the parent. So who looks after them then?


      1. Indeed. One thing people don’t consider with euthanasia is that the parents can “replace” a doomed infant with a healthy one instead of caring for that doomed child for perhaps a long time. That replacement surely increases the “well being” of the family.

        1. In the comments of Heather’s post, HaggisForBrains shares a heartbreaking story of how he and his wife lost a premature baby. He wisely accepted the death as being preferable to taking care of a disabled child thereby inflicting harm (neglect) on their healthy children.

        2. Dear Jerry,

          Much as I love and respect you, I have trouble with the statement about parents “replacing” children. Back in the 60s when I could no longer take the high dosages of birth control pills, I arranged to have my tubes tied. This was back in the day when women had to have written permission from their husbands or doctors wouldn’t perform the surgery. (Male ownership of women and children had to be considered, ya know?!)

          The surgeon asked me about wanting to “replace” my three children if any of them died. I said, “They are irreplaceable.” No any one individual of whatever age or condition can be a replacement for another. We are not manufactured products. Each one of us is unique. Whatever the age, if someone you love dies, you retain the love and your memories. Only in that way do they continue to “live”

          1. Unless I am mistaken, “”replace”” was used instead of “replace” to signify that there was no actual replacement. Maybe it is better to speak of “deferred family increase” to signify that there we are not speaking of specific individuals.

            By the way, I fail to see the difference between manufactured and biological products in that manufactured products can also individualize (c.f. mobiles and laptops). The putative difference that is mostly discussed is between children and pets – which are more emotionally charged – and as comments in this very thread point out nowadays pets can be “as close as any human”. Which goes back to Jerry’s article.

          2. With respect, Rowena, your children exist. They have personalities and are indeed ‘irreplaceable’ to you. This is not the same situation.

            What PCC was talking about was a just-born (and severely damaged) infant. How much personality does one that is unable to communicate, unable even to detectably think, only existing due to technology, have?

            Some parents may feel a strong emotional attachment to such an infant, but many others may not. And even the ones who do feel such an attachment may realise that, rationally, the strains of caring for such for all its life would be intolerable or would consume their own lives.

            People in more primitive societies (where infant mortality is high) are probably more familiar with the equation of having another child to ‘replace’ a lost one. (Or, in practice, having lots of kids in the hope that a number will survive). This doesn’t mean their feelings for the lost one are any less strong.


          3. Oh Rowena! Your post brings back bad memories! I, too, had my tubes tied, and I had to jump through no end of awful hoops because women couldn’t make a decision without a man doing the thinking for us. And my family doctor refused me on the grounds that I’d want to “replace” my daughter if she died. It was a sympathetic gynecologist who helped me get over the hurdles and get the job done.

  3. What strikes me is that the religion of Jessie was about reducing and relieving suffering, not increasing it. Yet Jessites continually preserve, observe, and sometimes increase suffering. Even their symbol is that of tortuous execution. It boggles the mind.

  4. Even though I agree with you and Pete Singer in theory, the idea of euthanizing infants is difficult for me for non rational reasons. It brings to mind fictional dystopias in which the practice has gone too far. I personally would likely consider euthanasia if I were the parent in one of these infants, especially if I thought the child suffered great pain.

      1. Agreed. I meant to say that this is a hard subject to approach rationally. It’s also traditionally taboo. I admire Jerry for advocating that it be open for discussion.

      2. It’s like the other laws that the religious right rail against such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Having a law doesn’t make them compulsory – it puts proper controls in place to protect everyone concerned, especially the person who will die.

  5. If a newborn is on life support and a decision is made to withdraw that support, I do believe that other options should exist other than letting them suffer till they die.

    One question, and I am not sure how to frame it, would be: would a change in the laws affect any impetuous to try and cure or prevent these types of outcomes? I say no, but could a sound argument be made in which the answer is yes?


    1. @Markham

      No more laws please. Although I’m glad the law stepped in & acted on behalf of Gard I don’t want bad law added on top too

      It is my opinion that ‘lawyering’ in the medical field is bad overall in every way [on balance – obviously medicine needs to be regulated]. The times that my loved ones & friends died in hospital, where main treatment, or life support was withdrawn – the death process was usually eased & assisted, if necessary, by liberal use of painkillers, sleeping pills etc. It doesn’t require an overdose to finish a weak patient…

      The use of this ‘side effect’ of painkillers is something I’d rather not see lawyered out of common practice – although I recognise the evil that this relaxed approach allows on occasion.

      Usually the withdrawal of fluids is sufficient

      1. I’m not content with “usually”, if I’m a patient with a painful terminal condition, I want the option to end it as quickly and painlessly. Why do you think that is “evil”? I know very well that there is risk that this “option” could be used without the patient’s full consent, though Death with Dignity laws do include provisions to prevent abuse. I’m willing to take that chance. It doesn’t make sense to me that millions who would wish to end their own suffering should be deprived of that, just to save the few who MAY be victims. As for infants, it seems very wrong that an infant should not be allowed to die as painlessly as possible.

        1. @Rita

          When I wrote this I assumed I didn’t need to add the bit in brackets because of the preceding remarks I made..

          QUOTE: The use of this ‘side effect’ of painkillers [to allow the medicos to quicken a merciful death] is something I’d rather not see lawyered out of common practice – although I recognise the evil that this relaxed approach allows on occasion.

          The “evil” I’m referring to are the “Angel of Death” psychopathic medicos, nurses & carers who have despatched the vulnerable & sick – Shipman, Allitt, Gilbert and so on.

  6. Jonathan Haidt’s ideas can explain, I think, conservatives’ reactions in issues like these; they come from the value of sanctity, which liberals generally do not hold as strongly. That’s where the disgust for ideas that violate the sanctity of human life comes from, and helps explain the vituperativeness in the critiques.

    For a quick intro to Haidt’s idea, see For a longer exposition, see his book, “The Righteous Mind.” I disagreed with a fair bit of the book, but it was still well done.

  7. I think that Professor Coyne’s posts on this topic have unintentionally played into the hands of the right-wing establishment, which has used them, with a big dollop of distortion, to rouse up the base, particularly the evangelicals and Catholics. For decades the right wing has portrayed itself as the defenders of morality against the baby killers. Now they have the opportunity to portray those who support euthanasia in certain circumstances as another instance of left wing immorality. It also diverts attention from the fact that the right wing wants to take health care away from millions. The right wing establishment knows that if it can’t maintain its phony image as the guardians of morality then its true agenda, which is economic, would be in jeopardy because of loss of support from the faithful. This strategy has worked for decades and there is little reason to believe it won’t continue.

    1. Maybe that strategy is not as rock solid as some think and they will be seen for their true hypocrisy on this morality issue. In any case it should not stop any of us from speaking up.

      1. Yes. These attacks on Jerry are an attempt to shut him up.

        The problem is the number of people who change their mind about the value of voluntary euthanasia once they’ve watched someone they love die in a long drawn out process, expressing over and over again they want to go more quickly.

        Advances in medicine have actually made this more common because people are living for so much longer.

  8. One underlying motivation for the religious who protest is that the very existence of terminally ill and suffering babies calls into question the merciful nature of their god. To continue to believe in him, they can’t accept that nature has such cruel capacity. So, they rationalize all suffering as god’s will, and any attempt at relieving it is in their minds immoral, ironically resulting in them adopting an immoral stance themselves.

  9. This subject is very important. I hope it develops into more dialogue. If one’s faith is the only reason to sustain (with technologies developed by science) a life that is poured with suffering then that is not a justified reason.

  10. There’s a conundrum underneath the arguments.

    People who are against ‘justified euthanasia’ of the new-born are also (sometimes) in favour of the death penalty. Similarly people who would support ‘justified euthanasia’ of the new-born are (often) against the death penalty.

    Can’t help but think there is some deep innocence/guilt emotions shaping the debate.

    1. I’m in the latter class, but don’t see any inconsistency. I oppose the death penalty for criminals because it’s not a deterrent, it precludes the possibility of reformation and release, and it prevents a just outcome if someone who is really innocent is convicted and executed. It has nothing to do with ending unnecessary suffering of anyone.

      1. All good reasons but…

        The death penalty is a deterrent in as much as executed people do not go on to kill again, unlike some merely imprisoned murderers who kill again in prison or on release.

        Euthanising newborns precludes the possibility that they will live long enough for a cure to be developed.

        Euthanising newborns may not be a just outcome if they could develop enough to give informed consent or deny it.

        Plus there’s the argument that lifelong imprisonment is lifelong suffering and indignity too.

        I think there is a argument that euthanising newborns and euthanising murderers are both reasonable positions. Just exercise great care that the newborns are beyond cure/palliation and the murderers are incontrovertably guilty and unable to be reformed.

        Just as you argue we put down a sick dog to end their suffering, we also put down a mad dog to avoid our own suffering.

        1. You make very good points. I would say the death penalty is not usually a deterrent. Most every case I’ve looked at the threat of death is not sufficient to give pause to a killer.

        2. “The death penalty is a deterrent in as much as executed people do not go on to kill again, unlike some merely imprisoned murderers who kill again in prison or on release.”

          If that’s your concern then life without parole would serve the same function, with the added benefit that when the prisoner is found to have been wrongly convicted (which happens disturbingly often) we haven’t added another judicial-murder-in-error to the shocking total.

          But I agree with Kevin in that the death penalty is not a ‘deterrent’ since most murderers assume they’re not going to be caught.


          1. I observed a slippery slope in my country. In the 1990s, we agreed to abolish the death penalty, being told by the elite that vicious murderers would be held in life imprisonment without parole. Once death penalty was abolished, we were told by the elite that it is inhumane to imprison anyone for life, that no civilized country does it, and that it is unacceptable in Europe, therefore it will not be done. Now, few murderers serve more than 10 years.

        3. You make sime interesting points that hold true in theory (and I’m assuming you are talking theoretically) but in practice it turns out that countries with the dead penalty end up with a list of innocent suspects being killed and countries with euthanasia don’t end up with a list of murders being covered up as euthanasia. Apparently it’s possible to create clear cut rules for the latter and not for the former. But that’s just from the pragmatic side of things.

          1. Mainly because it’s the one being euthanized requesting it. So that pretty much excludes murder from the get go, and it’s also a huge difference with the dead penalty, were as a rule the one receiving the penalty didn’t want to get it.

            If a patient is unable to give its consent, euthanasia is only allowed under very strict circumstances. It is worded in the law in the Netherlands like this: euthanasia is illegal unless very strict requirements are met.
            I’m no expert, but some of the requirements are:
            – the patient has to give its consent
            – if the patient is unable to give its consent, there has to be a written consent from the patient from when the patient still was able to give consent.
            – if the patient is under age the parents or guardians have to agree with the procedure.
            – the treating doctor has to agree with the euthanasia
            – at least one unaffiliated doctor has to agree with it as well
            – the medical condition has to be such that the suffering is unbearable and there’s no chance of survival.
            – the coroner will inform the public prosecutor of *every* euthanasia, since the cause of death is unnatural, and the prosecutor will start an investigation.
            – every euthanasia is reviewed by a review board, only if the review board approves procedure, the public prosecutor will drop the case.
            – every 5 years the law is reviewed in a public research

            So, yeah, it’s easier to cover up a murder by dumping the body in the river with a cement block tied to it, than considering covering it up as euthanasia.

          2. I don’t see how a US case could apply to Dutch law.
            If anything you could argue that were euthanasia been legal in the US at the time of the Schiavo case, and had a same set of requirements been put in place, there would not have been the need for such a debate about whether euthanasia would be in place.
            And without knowing too much of the Schiavo case, it’s possible that it wouldn’t have met the requirements for euthanasia as set in Dutch law.

          3. Terri Schiavo was in no condition to request anything. And she was being kept ‘alive’ (if that is the appropriate term) by machine.

            If you want to argue that she had some ‘quality of life’ that demanded they keep on feeding her like a pot plant, go to it.


  11. Congratulations. As C. Hitchens used to say (quoting his friend, the Israeli human-rights activist, Dr. Israel Shahak) “there are encouraging signs of polarization.” Only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity.

    Unfortunately, too many of your opponents are resorting to appeals to emotion and superstition and other invalid arguments. If they’d actually engage with and attempt to refute your arguments on their merits, we’d be having a more fruitful dialectic.

  12. What is completely lost in the negative reactions is that Jerry advocates out of compassion, not evolution or eugenics.

    1. Another thing lost is his inclusion of BOTH parents and an outside agency like a medical review board. This surely lessens the risks.

    2. This. If only the headline had said “Coyne is against torturing babies, even when ‘God’ does it.” Then people who, as the final cartoon rightly has it, only read the headline, would have to face the real issue.

  13. That Christian creationist moron Dr. Richard Weikart:

    Templeton/American Scientific Affiliation Lecture Series Contest, 2004, Second Prize for the video lecture, “From Darwin to Hitler”

    1. Ah… I suspected, though didn’t feel like confirming, what this guy thought was at the root of “Hitler’s Religion.”

      Same old, same old from the religious right: if you take Darwin seriously, you’re a fascistic eugenicist, and if you disbelieve in God outright, then you’re also a commie.

      No wonder these people foam at the mouth whenever someone like PCC appears on their radar.

  14. The right is the right. They have more than their fair share of taboos, and as soon as you touch on them any ‘my-enemy’s-enemy’ style comradeship that has recently developed due to Jerry’s criticism of the regressive left vanishes. All you’re left with is a lot of puffed-up colonel Blimps scrabbling over one another to caricature liberals as baby-murderers.

    FWIW, Jerry’s argument was careful, measured, clear and reasonable. If these people are so distraught by mere words perhaps they should set up some kind of ‘space’ in which they could be ‘safe’ from offensive ideas.

    1. They have set up a safe space. It’s called rhe internet and they think that, like the world, they’re entitled to saybwhat should and should not happen in it.

      1. For all their bullshit about free speech they’d be just as quick to shut down debate if they had the same academic hegemony as the left does. Indeed a large chunk of the last five hundred years of progress consists of liberals speaking out against conservative speech codes.

        The ‘freeze peach’ sneering from the illiberal left has a grain of truth in it. I don’t think for a second that the majority of the alt-right, or the Trump-right ‘free-speech protesters’, give a tupenny fuck about actually protecting the right to say what you want. It’s just that for quite a while now the liberal left has been culturally dominant…and free speech is always the tool of the underdog. As soon as the underdog gets the upper hand the relationship reverses.

  15. The world is sliding towards idiocracy. Few, if any, are willing to put the work in to understand anything they comment on and show a marked tendency to simply take the politically correct stance so long as it doesn’t directly inconvenience them.

    There should be a mechanism to take action against channels which misrepresent what iwas said and invent things not said but the reality is we live in a world where facts don’t matter Only emotional appeals to click bait traffic are what count since no one is prepared to pay for accurate unbiased reporting.

    It seems that no matter how reasoned and sane your arguement these days, the chimps will just scream and throw dung at you. This world is pretty much totally fucked.

    1. The world is sliding towards idiocracy. Few, if any, are willing to put the work in to understand anything they comment on and show a marked tendency to simply take the politically correct stance so long as it doesn’t directly inconvenience them.

      If it makes you feel better, people have always been like this. Moral progress still gets made though. Eventually…

  16. The world is sliding towards idiocracy. Few, if any, are willing to put the work in to understand anything they comment on and show a marked tendency to simply take the politically correct stance so long as it doesn’t directly inconvenience them.

    There should be a mechanism to take action against channels which misrepresent what iwas said and invent things not said but the reality is we live in a world where facts don’t matter Only emotional appeals to click bait traffic are what count since no one is prepared to pay for accurate unbiased reporting.

    It seems that no matter how reasoned and sane your arguement these days, the chimps will just scream and throw dung at you. This world is pretty much totally fucked.

  17. A few years ago I read an article by a doctor who had always opposed the euthanasia of infants. Then he cared for a newborn with an extreme version of a genetic condition causing weak connective tissue. Any rubbing against the baby’s delicate skin caused its outer layers to come off, leaving a painful, burn-like surface. Pick up the baby, and skin came off. Wipe the baby’s bottom, and skin came off. Attempt to cuddle the baby to comfort her, and skin came off. The parents brought up the possibility of euthanasia. “No!” said the doctor.

    Nurses and parents slowly developed ways to handle the baby without removing too much skin as she spent weeks in the hospital. Finally, the baby went home. A few months later, she died of pneumonia, preventing certain death from skin cancer by age ten.

    The doctor was haunted by this event, and decided his compassionate choice in this case would have been euthanasia.

  18. I accept the view of human exceptionalism. For example, I am ok for well regulated scientific research that humanely terminates the lives of animals for the sake of advancing human medicine. Heck, even for the sake of learning basic biology.
    But there has to be a circumstance where humanely terminating a human life is the moral choice. And this conclusion has to be applicable to people of all ages.

    1. I believe I clearly understand your conception of human exceptionalism and I largely, perhaps completely, agree with it. But, as I’m sure you know, your conception of human exceptionalism is not the same as that typically held by Christians and similar religious believers.

      Actually, that’s exactly what you were pointing out wasn’t it?

  19. The same people who want to go back to the “good” old days when gays stayed in the closet don’t want to go back to the “good” old days when infants with fatal genetic disorders died shortly after birth.

    We need ethical debates based on reason and compassion. Rand Paul says that children are the property of their parents, so let the parents have the final say, not lobbyists!

  20. If you want to see actual death panels in action cast your gaze towards the US “health” system which is under the thrall of for profit insurance companies.

    1. The only system that can do away with your death panel does not exist anywhere. No one can afford that.

    1. Let alone newborns with severe malformations such as eg. an ‘unclosed’ face. Blind. Deaf. Paralysed. Unable to feed, except by tube…

  21. Is there anyone who wishes upon him/herself a life where one can’t speak, breathe, eat, move, defecate without the help of machines or humans, nailed to the same bed for years, unable to explain what one wants, unable to do anything? In these cases is really euthanasia the cruellest solution? Oh, I forget, life belongs to a God that doesn’t even exist.

  22. Being raised Christian, I was taught the maxim “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. If I am suffering with no hope of recovery, I know very well what I would have them do unto me: compassionate euthanasia. I suspect those who oppose euthanasia on religious grounds would choose the same for themselves under those circumstances. This is nothing more than imposing their religious beliefs on the weak, vulnerable and suffering of this world.

    1. “I suspect those who oppose euthanasia on religious grounds would choose the same for themselves under those circumstances.”

      Yes, but (when I am feeling vindictive) I think their demands should be flatly rejected on the grounds of their own past opposition to it.

      It would only be fair, and in full accordance with the ‘do unto others’ maxim.

      Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way.


  23. Whatever the rights and wrongs of euthanasia in this case the child died as the all along Doctors said he would.
    The injustified and vitriolic attack on the ethics of the Doctors and the NHS is nearly unforgivable in a civilised society.
    The parents were WRONG.
    Perhaps an apology from them to the Doctors may be expected?
    I doubt it.
    As for the Right to Life lobby, you’ve got your pound of publicity flesh, enjoy it whilst you still retain some sanity.

  24. A long time ago I used to glance at National Review in order to get the conservative-opposition point of view.
    I quit in the mid-1980s when they hired the odious John Simon as a film critic with his gratuitously nasty reviews.
    I felt re-inforced when they hired Florence King in 1991 to write her column “The Misanthrope’s Corner”.
    I lost what limited respect I had for Buckley when I watched his debate with James Baldwin, and felt re-inforced when he had Pat Robertson on his debating team in one of his Firing Line debates.

    National Review has a mere patina of intellectual respectability.

    (But I’m glad they fired Ann Coulter.)

  25. Does Coyne really believe that we should treat humans like dogs and cats?

    This question deserves to be confronted head on.

    Certainly, if I were in the position of having a terminal disease with unremitting pain, I would wish to be treated as well as a cat or a dog in the same position. In reality, under my country’s current law, I would instead be subject to torture for the rest of my miserable life.

    So the answer to the question is yes.

    1. And the drug warriors would deny you pain killers too. Reason magazine did a good series of articles, online, about the war on pain killers. Scary.

  26. The catholic church granted sainthood to Mother Teresa who left the sick and suffering to die slowly without medical treatment, oftentimes for treatable conditions. But they oppose withdrawing life support in a terminally ill infant to end its suffering. How they can consider that the moral high ground I will never understand.

    1. Come to think of it, Mother Teresa’s argument could be seen as favoring torture of the dying. This works based on the theory, “the more the pain the closer to Jesus”.

  27. Well said. It needed to be said but haven’t you stirred up a hornets’ nest? Many of the human exceptionalists WOULD leave a terminally ill child or an old person to linger in pain for years. They would justifyou this by saying that their god sends live and only the god has the right to end it. Except for non-human animals but then they are not made in His image (do dolphins have dolphin-shaped gods in their imaginations?). There are philosophical issues about ending the lives of those who cannot consent. Shouldn’t be a problem in USA though as it regularly murders members of minority groups who transgress its laws, presumably without their consent.

  28. Totally agree with the good professor. I carried my dog in my arms to be euthanised. She was as close to me as any human could be.

    1. Not just animals. We can develop affection for inanimate objects (usually machines) too.

      This goes along with the human tendency to anthropomorphise things.

      When my old Mazda finally got too rusty to pass its next safety check, I drove her myself to the wrecker (she was still running nicely). I felt exactly as someone would who was taking a pet to be euthanised. After all, she had taken me over tens of thousands of miles of road, in all weathers, for ~15 years. I had personally done all the mechanical work on her. I had had more time and experiences with her than with my closest friend. (I suppose a cowboy and his horse might be the closest analogy).
      I was crying when I walked away from the yard.

      Now, you tell me that some braindead lump of protoplasm with tubes sticking out of it is more deserving of my affection (whether it carries my DNA or not…)


  29. Human exceptionalism aside Prof(E), you are certainly banging on a very sacred door.
    In certain poor countries, gender is a good reason to let a fully healthy child die. A child with deformities has, or may have very little chance even if let to live, resources go elsewhere and their life expectancy is low, something like the best portions of food, doctors visits could, and are withdrawn for such a child.
    We here in the west do indeed live in a very privileged existence health wise and deep down this argument is up against thousands, if not millions of years of human cognitive evolution not dissimilar to religion.
    My opinions of course but i take my cue from evolutionary psychology but that may look like a red rag to a bull to the emotionally charged commentors your dealing with.

    1. In certain countries, healthy or not, girl children are allowed to slowly die due to starvation. Not enough food for the entire family. Too many girls to marry off or sell as slaves.

      Prior to the time when most babies were born in hospitals, and the greatest number were born at home, with or without a midwife, there is no way of knowing how many babies were “stillborn” that actually weren’t. Even now, some children born at home are called “stillborn” when they aren’t.

      There was a time in this country (U.S.) when it was difficult to keep children alive as there were so many ways they could die, and diseases they could die from. I have visited old cemeteries in which I’ve seen the names and death dates of up to six children in a family who all died in a relatively short period of time.

      There has continued to be a time in this country in which doctors or nurses have been faced with making decisions about prolonging or ending a patient’s suffering. This decision-making burden should not belong to the medical profession only. Families need to participate.
      Where is the compassion? What would the person have wanted?

      One way we avoid discussion of such serious topics is by maintaining ignorance about the plight of individuals and families of those so onerously affected. Have you ever seen a “waterhead” baby who has to have tubes implanted in the skull periodically as he/she grows to drain accumulating fluid off the brain? I know of such a child cared for by his family into his early 20s before he died. He was bedfast and never had a normal life. Nor did they.

      As usual, it’s too easy to think we know what life is like for all humans when, obviously,
      there are many conditions we have no idea of
      and can’t imagine.

      How can Jesus-believers not have more compassion for terminal suffering as he was purported to have had? What is it about Christians, who think it blessed to suffer (especially if someone else is doing it!)

      1. What you describe is a very complex situation. Decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis. It’s difficult.
        The Jesus-believers have been promised an easy answer in every case. This must have great appeal to those who have not been properly acquainted with complexity.

        1. Jesus’s own Dad did not have enough compassion to save his son from suffering though he surely could have. The Christian god is not compassionate and demands suffering. It’s not surprising that many of his followers feel the same way.

  30. “The parents were reinforced in their refusal to accept this tragic situation, and the whole court process pointlessly prolonged, because of the pressure largely emanating from activists and media on the American political right.”

    This made me immediately think of Terry Schiavo. The American conservative Christians’s (I’m not going to say it’s the entire “American right,” because that’s a generalization, though not when it comes to American right-wing media) unwillingness to think about or discuss this issue isn’t confined just to infants..

    1. That was my conclusion too, when I read that Congress had given Charlie Gard permanent resident status.

      Won’t do that for some starving Syrian kid, but they’ll do it for a British vegetable just to poke a stick at the British NHS.

      Bloody typical.


      1. And note this also from Melanie Phillips’ piece:

        “But this case had absolutely nothing to do with the state or the government. This was not Charlie’s parents v the state. This was Charlie’s parents v the medical profession, a conflict in which the courts were brought in as the dispassionate arbiter in the best interests above all of the sick child.


        Nor had this anything to do with “socialised medicine” or the NHS system. This was purely a case where doctors were making decisions absolutely in line with medical ethics, which hold that causing a patient any pain or distress from treatment is only permissible if there is clear benefit to the patient from that treatment. In this case, there was not.”

        A point which the American Right seems incapable of grasping (or prefer not to notice).


        1. They prefer not to notice (though, again, it’s not the “American right,” it’s the conservative Christian portion. Just as the regressive left is not the entire left). Once a highly religious person is convinced that something is a matter of religious doctrine, they will believe in it.

          It’s the same with an ideologue and ideological doctrine.

          1. I wish I could regard it this way. The Boston Marathon bombers were brought to the USA as children in a family of asylum seekers. Some British terrorists, the most recent of whom was Manchester bomber Salman Abedi, were born in Britain to refugee parents. So we see that acceptance of Muslim refugees creates great problems for the indigenous population for generations to come.

  31. Re Charlie I understand that the Doctors where trying to get a supply of the “experimental powder” last year before Charlie had catastrophic seizures. Following the seizures 9 independent neurologists from across the world agreed the prognosis. Charlie’s parents subsequently found the Dr Michio Hirano on-line he refused the hospitals and parents request to see Charlie in January and when he did come in July, still making claims he could cure Charlie, he informed the court that he had not seen any medical notes / scans. There seems to be a major ethical issue regarding Dr Michio Hirano behaviour, especially as the caring professionals received death threats.

    I find the religious right to be somewhat confused, do they believe there is a better place a child would go after death or not? If they truly believed they would let children go “in the sure & certain hope of the resurrection and eternal life”. Or perhaps this is why the Religious right support the death of over a 1000 healthy children each year in the USA from gun related injuries refusing efforts to regulate and control gun ownership.

    Believers should willingly pay for atheists to have excellent healthcare, being “kind loving people” knowing that for atheists this is their only life before eternal hell” but refusing any health care themselves to be sooner in heaven.

  32. I agree that this article makes mostly good sense, but you should perhaps know that Melanie Phillips is very much against vaccination. Her title “A cruel and ignorant campaign” just about sums up her anti-vaccination rants.

  33. I support this position as a parent. I’d never want my child to suffer needlessly if all possible medical solutions have been exhausted. I’m disgusted that people would force another being to suffer needlessly for some archaic moral pretense.

  34. I’m following this public debate with growing bewildering. I was somewhat involved in the public debate about this in The Netherlands, because I knew the doctor who first euthanized an newborn infant.
    He wasn’t really the first, because it happened already before without reporting it, but he was the first doctor to report it as the cause of death.
    This was after euthanasia was legalized in the nineties, and the public debate moved on to the tougher fringe cases concerning euthanasia of people who can’t decide for themselves.
    The doctor in case was prosecuted (I even think to remember that there was contact between the public prosecutor and the soon to be defendant beforehand) but the public prosecutor demanded no punishment, only a verdict. This is done in exceptional cases where it is deemed highly relevant to create jurisprudence, but unneeded to punish the defendant when found guilty. He was found guilty, because the law didn’t allow for euthanasia on newborns.
    This and other cases led to strict guidelines that made euthanasia and late term abortus (after week 24) legal in the Netherlands. The guidelines somewhat follow the requirements set forth by Jerry and they are periodically refined based on the experiences of doctors and parents in the past 20 odd years or so.
    I don’t remember a idiotic public debate like the one I’m seeing here right now. Conservatives in The Netherlands aren’t against euthanasia in principle, mainly because conservative doesn’t equal religious in The Netherlands. That helps in creating a constructive debate, obviously. But even the religious parties of which we have a few wouldn’t dare to go as far as to compare infant euthanasia to the Nazis.
    It goes to show that it’s religion that poisons this debate in the US.

  35. As usual, I think differently than most of the participants in the discussion.

    In the parental community to which I belong, it is considered the parent’s duty to inflict suffering on his child whenever he is convinced that it is in the child’s best interest. Any parent who declines painful medical treatment for his child is regarded as an irresponsible person thinking at the level of the child. And I agree with this judgement.

    I have only scorn for the parents of Sarah Hershberger who fled the painful cancer treatment, though in her particular case it seems that the doctors were wrong in their prognosis – as far as I know, she is still OK without additional rounds of chemotherapy.

    Charlie Gard’s parents thought that it was in his best interest to be flown across the pond and given nucleosides. The reason they thought so was that some American quack doctor claimed to be able to cure or relieve his condition. So I place the blame squarely on the US institutions whose job is to protect the public from quackery. I think that a doctor who lies to vulnerable people and wishes to do illegal experiments on them should be banned from practice. If the American religious right supported the parents, I do not blame them, because most of them, similarly to the parents, lacked any expertise.

    I also think that it was no business of any court whether Charlie’s parents would fly him to the USA, as long as this was privately funded.

    I am thankful to Prof. Coyne for honestly mentioning the important fact that Charlie’s parents were isolated when the end of their son’s life was decided.

  36. There may be a difference between the UK & USA Re “it was no business of any court whether Charlie’s parents would fly him to the USA”
    In the UK courts rarely become involved, in medical issues it is only when parents and medical professionals reach an impasse about what is in the best interest of the child. E.g. where a blood transfussion is required and parents have religious objection, the court would rule to make a decision about what is in the child’s best interest.
    In this case there the parents had received money from donations and could have taken Charlie to the USA. But my understanding was the concern from medics that Charlie’s physical state would have been made even worse by the flight, & it was not in the child’s best interest.
    Prior to the catastrophic brain damage sustained last year, the medics had asked to try the treatment the parents requested, but after the seizure the brain damage was too great (confirmed by 9 independent experts). I fully agree the “quake” comment as the claims of a cure was without examining Charlie or even looking at medical records including brain scans. Comments by the Pope & Trump where horribly misguided and completely “ignor-ant” of the facts, and may have been to their political benefit to divert the publics attention from their own issues.

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