Now I am become Professor Death, the destroyer of infants

August 1, 2017 • 9:10 am

You should be able to recognize the source of my title; if not, go here.

At any rate, the emission of outrage about my discussion of considering euthanasia for suffering and hopelessly ill or doomed infants continues, and one thing that marks that outrage is a complete failure to understand my point. (By the way, although I appreciate those who have sympathized with the misguided attacks on me, those attacks don’t bother me, for that’s the consequence of having strong and controversial opinions on a public forum—especially opinions that go against religious dogma. My concern is just to put the idea out there for consideration, and counter the criticisms when they’re illogical or inacurate.)

Now I hope I made my thoughts clear, and I’ll do it again briefly. If an infant is born that is so ill or malformed that it will die soon, or there is no possibility of a worthwhile existence (as with a child in a persistent vegetative state), we should consider putting the newborn out of its suffering or permanent unconsciousness by euthanizing it. I did not say that every sick or deformed infant should be euthanized. Neither did I say that the state should do the killing, for that would have to be a legal act, regulated by strict guidelines and approved by the parents of the child and the attending physicians.

The purpose of that euthanasia is to minimize suffering in infants who are doomed to a short life of pain or will be permanently unconscious with no hope of revival (in the latter case, as in permanent coma with brain death, there may be no pain, but there will be suffering on the part of the parents as well as a laborious and futile attempt to keep alive a body lacking a functioning brain).

This does not mean that infants with Down Syndrome, for instance, should be euthanized at birth. That condition, due to three copies of chromosome 21 (geneticists call it “trisomy 21”), can and usually is detected before birth, at least in countries that do prenatal testing. Parents of a fetus with Down Syndrome can then decide whether or not to get an abortion (over 90% of such diagnoses in Europe result in a choice to abort).  If the condition is detected soon after birth, and the parents don’t want to care for the child, it can be put up for adoption. Further, although Down Syndrome children often have problems with vision and hearing as well as congenital heart disease, most don’t seem to be undergoing unbearable suffering. Many such children live long lives and are loved by their parents: the average lifespan has increased dramatically with better medical care, and was up to 50 years in 2002 (I think it’s now approaching 60). Euthanizing such a newborn should be considered only in the most extreme medical cases, when the child is suffering greatly, if the parents have no desire to care for it, and there is nobody who wants to care for it.  In such cases I would leave the legal guidelines to the experts, but a Down Syndrome child is not what I had in mind when discussing newborns who are candidates for euthanasia.

Nevertheless, this article at the New Americana, a conservative website (yes, I’m “Professor Death”), is a long “rebuke” of my stand by a woman who has a Down Syndrome child and loves him. (Click on screenshot to go to link.)

A few excerpts:

At least one medical professional, Lisa Dennis – a long-time nurse (RN, CCP, LP) and the mother of a disabled child (now a young adult) – isn’t buying into Professor Coyne’s murderous premise. I [author Paige Rogers] shared Coyne’s blog post with Lisa. Her rebuke of the spiritually near-sighted and morally bankrupt professor is both poignant and compelling.

My son with Down Syndrome, though non-verbal, is the most sociable young man at his school. Jeffrey gives all he meets the gifts of kindness, enthusiasm, and warmth. He exudes all the best of humanity. While pursuing confirmation at church, he spiritually inspired all who witnessed his journey. He personifies the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, Spread the Gospel; use words if necessary,” she said.

“The professor states, that when religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia. My response is that when religion vanishes, so will mankind. Future generations will judge today’s society, not for the respect for new life (even flawed and brief), but for the brutality of ending so many pre-term lives in the brutal practice of abortion. Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person.- Deuteronomy 27:25.”

It goes on like this, extolling Jeffrey’s virtues and the happiness he brought to his parents, and I’m delighted to hear it. It’s a win/win situation, and Ms. Dennis sounds like a great parent.  But she and the authors don’t realize that it’s not someone like Jeffrey whom I see as a candidate for euthanasia. His parents presumably knew through prenatal testing that he had trisomy 21, or knew shortly after birth, and, despite that, chose to raise him. (She should ask herself, though, what if neither the parents nor anyone else wanted to raise him or adopt him?)

Rogers ends her piece like this:

“God gives us many gifts.; one must only open one’s eyes to see them,” said Lisa. I wish Professor Coyne could meet Jeffrey. Perhaps then he could understand the real value, the real worth of a human life, regardless of how “doomed” or how “unhappy” that life may have first appeared to the benevolent professor. 

In fact, I’ve met several children with Down Syndrome, all raised by parents who were caring, even though they may have preferred to have a more normal child. And yes those children have worthwhile lives—worthwhile to both their parents and themselves. But I wish Lisa could see, as she can by going to the pediatric wing of her hospital, the children living with anencephaly—no brain at all—or with the conscious part of their brain destroyed, or in a persistent and irreversible vegetative state. I wish she could see the children with more severe genetic defects who are in pain, kept alive only with feeding tubes and respirators. Are those lives worthwhile? If so, to whom? If the parents find it “worthwhile” to keep those infants alive at all costs, does that outweigh the fact that the infants are either suffering or will never become conscious human beings, tied forever to mechanical devices that breathe for them?

Lisa cites the the Bible to defend her choice, but you don’t need the Bible for that: simple morality based on well being will suffice. But that morality doesn’t hold for suffering and terminally ill infants, and do you really want to cite Deuteronomy to keep a suffering and terminal newborn alive?

My thinking on this issue is evolving, for euthanizing infants is not by any means an easy issue. But I am sure of one thing:  in some cases it is the right thing to do.


From the mailbag (attempted comments on this site). These refer to my original post of July 13, and I’ve left spelling and grammar untouched:

From reader “Mozalbete”:

I’m glad to see people like (((Jerry Coyne))) squirm at the presence of morality, telling others about their feverish nihilistic dreams.

Nothing you say is new. Nothing is revolutionary. The things you say have already existed for millenia. And for those millenia they have been laughed at, because they are a joke. A symptom of lack of meaning in life and theological illiteracy.

It’s nice that these people exist, since this complete lack of decency has been aanounced for many, many centuries. I can add this and other statements to my folder, then show it to atheists and say “we told you so”.

Mozalbete added this in a subsequent response to reader Kevin’s comment that euthanasia should be a critical component of a moral and progressive society:

You should at least try to hide your mental issues

Well, there’s no response here to the moral argument; just ad hominems. The person has nothing.

And from reader BK Lawson:

When all of you people who support murdering babies end up in Hell, let me know how that worked out for you. Playing God is up to God – not you.
Murder is murder, plain and simple.
This is just sick.
Now, let me ask you this – how long will it be until you’re all lobbying to murder sick or injured children that it simply costs too much to heal? Where do you draw the line?
What’s next? Return to the eugenics laws of the early 20th century?
Go ahead and flame me all you want.
Wicked people like you will be ignored.

Again, nothing substantive but Bible-waving. Lawson doesn’t answer the questions of “What is the right thing to do with a suffering and doomed infant that can be kept alive only by extreme measures like respirators, or will die shortly, but in agony? Do you want it to suffer continuously until it dies? Why would putting such a child out of its misery be wrong?”

I’ve still not seen an answer to these questions from any of the critics. But we have seen that many of these views are motivated by religion, which, as it has so many times in the past, tried to block moral progress to satisfy the imagined demands of a nonexistent deity.


146 thoughts on “Now I am become Professor Death, the destroyer of infants

  1. With such passionate focus on providing healthcare for all who need it, I’m sure BK Lawson was a vocal proponent of the ACA, complaining only that it did not go far enough…

    1. Indeed – I am fairly sure that there are many inconsistencies in this crowd, from the ACA to the death penalty to instigation of wars. I won’t be overly surprised if these folks cheer on the orange one when he bombs North Korea.

  2. Mozalbete, these posts are an excellent resource to begin or continue dialogue. This is an important and increasing relevant subject. I invite anyone to add their thoughts to the comments: positive or negative. Most of them are really instructive.

    People’s lives like Jeffry’s are not worth turning away from, regardless of one’s stance on this issue. These are the kinds of cases to pour over and understand.

    And no single solution, I suspect, will fit more than one case.

      1. Also, since Jerry left it unmentioned, I’m wondering if he is unaware of the significance of his name being surrounded by three sets of parentheses. For those of you who aren’t up to date on this, that means the person named within the parentheses is a Jew.

  3. “Now I am become Professor Death, the destroyer of infants”

    Cool….sounds like the title of a 1950’s horror movie. Will there be one forthcoming?

    Seriously, my wife used to make the exact same arguements for euthenasia in her biomedical ethics classes. She would get pushback from some of the nurses in training but the doctors in training usually agreed with her when they said anything.

      1. Yes. And please note, all Dr Kevorkian ever did was facilitate VOLUNTARY euthanasia. Which makes him a hero of mine. Sometimes death is not the worst thing that can happen to you.


        1. I agree, and having met the good doctor (to shake his hand for the way his advice helped my late wife), I can confirm that he is a lovely, amusing, and sensitive man. A hero of mine as well, as you may have gathered.

          1. In that Dr. Kevorkian’s work probably helped promote and advance Death with Dignity laws in states like Oregon, where I live, although I’ve never met him, I consider him a hero. He, and others like him, made it possible for my husband to choose his time, place and method of death when pain from cancer became unlivable.

          2. Lot of people talking about Dr. Kevorkian as “he is such a nice man” and “he is this or that”. Just to be clear, the proper tense is “was”. He has shuffled off this mortal coil over six years ago.

  4. Looking at it biologically, as I try to, the child that it is worst to lose is the one at the threshold of reproductive age. That child has had a lot of resources put into it so if it dies without reproducing that is the greatest loss to the parent. A baby or young child has had comparatively little put into its upbringing, so it is worth less biologically if it is sick or ill. Before the post war period in economically advanced countries a large number of families would have lost children soon after birth to illness or disease or genetic problems that would not have allowed the child to survive without modern medicine.

    Where resources are scarce & limited, societies have to make decisions that people feel uncomfortable with, & I welcome PCC[E]’s discussion of a tricky subject. In a world of well over 7 billion, we have plenty of people.

          1. I think that is a common experience in multiple cultures. Amount of children is rather directly related I think to economic status, child mortality rates, and so forth.

      1. This is the reason I give for not having children. With all the problems created by overpopulation, how can anyone justify having even one child?

        1. By having 1 or 2 children, you are at least contributing to the diminishing of the Earth’s population. Granted, not as much as having no children, but still it could be seen as justified in that perspective.

        1. Agreed. There are just too many bloody people.

          Most ways to reduce the population are painful and damaging, but one painless way is just by *not having more*.


          1. I think Craw is spot on that it is not helping to the cause of euthanasia if it is linked to the fact that there are too many people on Earth.

          2. I would agree that a more significant link is with contraception and abortion. Dominic’s point as I see it was not directed specifically at euthanasia.

            But what the hell, let’s just have a war instead and do it the hard way…


    1. It is not just children, but mothers that make this issue complicated, cf. maternal mortality. (*)

      A mother may not be able to give birth to some babies without medical/scientific assistance. With or without assistance this can a) lead to harm for the mother b) present a case where the baby is artificially handicapped, i.e., would have died naturally, but science saved it.

      More interestingly, we are seeing a slight increase in maternal mortality. I would be curious if this is because medically assisted babies born 20 or 30 or 40 years ago are now child bearing and they are already at some disadvantage for fertility and child rearing.

      I wonder, still, if all this artificial fertility is not related to rise in autism and/or certain allergies.


      1. C-sections, of which more and more are taking place, can be a hazard for the mother and a loss to her entire family. “First, do no harm.” This is recent:

        Infection in caesarian surgeries, and deaths therefrom, seem to be increasing.

        At the current time, as well as in the past, if mothers that were too young gave birth the old fashioned way, many die in childbirth. Think of this in countries where very young girls are forced to marry and give birth, and in countries where abortion is not allowed.

        There are numerous pregnancy complications that can kill Moms before the child is born, as well as damage the child in utero. In fact, the whole process can be hazardous to the mother and child during gestation and birth. (Of course, enough survive to create a population explosion. However, if it’s your wife or child who dies in childbirth, it may cause great pain and suffering to you and your family; not to mention to the mother and child.)

        Overpopulation, as has been mentioned, is a major problem. This is happening more in third world, very poor countries, where the negative impact on mothers, children, families and society is even more significant.

        If one wants to go back, near or far, in history, we can include thoughts about living children who were adversely affected by starvation and/or loss of parents in war-torn countries (Dutch children during and after WWII, for example). It has been discovered that malnutrition during certain years in a child’s development causes long term damage.

        The Russian children who are being withheld from adoption in the U.S. in response to sanctions are children that Russians won’t adopt, partially due to major health issues.

        I will say again that DNA testing should be made available (or required; sort of like the old testing before marriage for venereal diseases) of individuals planning to marry, and of foetuses before they are born. Also, post-birth testing of babies for potential health defects that can be treated early should include more than is currently done. Everything that can prevent human suffering should be done proactively first. But, sympathy for a living but terminal sufferer, whether baby, child or adult should be carefully considered by those closest to them, in conference with doctors.

    2. The one thing you said that I don’t like is “societies have to make decisions”. To me it’s about giving the parents an option in extreme situations. I don’t really care what society wants.

      1. It begins with societies agreeing to have the capacity to make decisions. That must happen first before personal decision matter, or are even allowed. Further, when a society agrees it usually comes with a deeper recognition that a significant fraction of the population has given the subject thought and agrees personal decisions are not only important, but should be recognized.

        So yes, political liberalism is the cornerstone to advancing the best possibility for structured, personal acumen.

        1. First, the instances where they don’t are so vanishingly rare as to be nonexistent. Especially in today’s society with easy access to birth control and (usually) common access to abortion, women simply don’t carry babies to term unless they actually want to become mothers. Further, we’re talking about babies in neonatal ICU units — and no way is an infant winding up there without a significant level of commitment from the parents. And, on top of it all, there’s the ICU staff, all the doctors and nurses and the rest, providing care for the infant as well as counseling and assistance to the parents.

          So we can reject your boogeyman of cruelly Satanic baby-sacrificing parents out of hand with prejudice.

          But, even if we want to expand the discussion to the one-in-a-billion cases that fit your fantasy if you squint hard enough…what on Earth makes you think the current infrastructure (that ICU ward, for example) is inadequate to protect the child? Do you really think that the doctors there (such as the one who’s already contributed to this thread) aren’t going to have the best interests of the child at heart?




          1. One in a billion you say?

            Ever heard of Charlie Gard? The parents in that case didn’t have his best interests at heart, at least not in my opinion, nor that of the court, nor that of the doctors involved.

            You may argue that is only one child, but I could dredge up other similar cases with Google. Or I could quote examples of religious people failing to seek medical treatment for their sick children because of their beliefs.

            Then of course, there’s anti-vaxxers.

            So parents don’t necessarily have the best interests of the child at heart.

          2. Sorry, but Charlie is the textbook example of why this needs to be left in the hands of the doctors and the family — not politicians, especially not foreign politicians, and most especially not random Internet commenters.

            And for you to accuse his parents of not caring for him is truly beyond the pale. They went above and beyond, doing far more than ever even occurs to most parents — yet it still wasn’t enough.

            Have you no shame, no sense of decency?

            …and your bit about vaccination is completely off-topic. Vaccination is the standard of care as well as essential to the general public health and welfare; parents who resist vaccinating their children put everybody else’s children at risk along with their own.

            The debate here over compassionate treatment of newborns is also in accord with the standard of care but is devoid of public health considerations. You have no basis for comparison.



          3. “And for you to accuse his parents of not caring for him is truly beyond the pale. They went above and beyond, doing far more than ever even occurs to most parents — yet it still wasn’t enough.

            Have you no shame, no sense of decency?”

            Oh come off it Ben. The parents were misled (not least by the idiot American ‘right-to-life’ lobby) and misguided. Their concern led them into an absurd position – as absurd as any Jehovah’s Witless denying their child blood transfusions.

            Personally, I think the UK taxpayer would have been better off had they been allowed to drag Baby Gard off to the US. Tough luck on him but there are limits to what the state can do in the face of extreme wishful thinking.


          4. And for you to accuse his parents of not caring for him is truly beyond the pale. They went above and beyond, doing far more than ever even occurs to most parents — yet it still wasn’t enough.

            Ben, you are accusing me of saying things that I did not say. I said they did not have Charlie Gard’s best interests at heart. I did not say they did not care for him. In fact, I would argue they did the wrong thing precisely because of their overwhelming emotional attachment to him.

            Have you no shame, no sense of decency?

            Normally I would let it go, but you accused me of having no sense of shame or decency. That is a direct attack on my character, which is against da roolz so I think I’d like an apology from you.

            and your bit about vaccination is completely off-topic.

            You disputed my claim that “parents don’t necessarily have the best interests of their children at heart”. I’m entitled to draw evidence that my claim is true from wherever I like. Parents don’t always have the best interests of their child at heart and anti-vaxxers are slam dunk evidence that this is true.

        2. The parents don’t necessarily have the best interests of the child at heart.

          Oh, a heretic! Shall I get the bonfire piled up? Any preferences for nice smelling oils while you are cooked?
          The possibility that a parent can be more concerned with their social standing – whichever society they choose to consider important – than with the actual interests of their children is a heresy that will lead to compulsory vaccinations (for the herd immunity effect) and Social Services taking children way from abusive parents. Including parents who indoctrinate the children with religions differing from the chosen religion of the other parent.
          Does anyone make “apple pie” flavoured peanuts I can eat while watching how this plays out?

  5. No. You are not the great death dealer. That’s God. He murdered not only infants and children but also pregnant women and their unborn according to the Bible during “The Flood”. Not satisfied with that, He also killed all the innocent first-borns in Egypt but left Pharaoh untouched. Still not content, He then went on supposedly to try to commit genocide of the Canaanites in Joshua by ordering the murder of civilians such as pregnant women, children, infants and at times even all the livestock. And for good measure, let’s throw in Job; there God kills all 10 of Job’s children as part of his bet with the evil one. To Him, they’re just collateral damage to punish the adults.

    You’re not even close. You suggest doing the right thing when infants are suffering. God kills them when they are innocent and healthy.

      1. And that’s not the only biblical story that is contradicted by DNA. But contradict is too weak a word…how about disproves.

        1. Of course the fact that the story is just more BS doesn’t remove the moral point that the Bible says (and presumably its followers approve) that G*d ordered their genocide.


    1. I heard the number directly killed by the biblical god is just under 400,000, not including the entire population of Earth, less Noah and his family, and other non-enumerated quantities.

  6. Many of these same people will be clamoring to reduce social services which would pay for the care of these children and they won’t see the cognitive dissonance in it at all.

    While I recognize that PCC is mentally strong enough to withstand the criticism he is getting, please be mindful of your personal safety.

    1. Yes. Keep prenatal and postnatal babies alive at any cost but, if they live into childhood or adulthood, don’t provide health insurance for them in the U.S.

      It’s part and parcel of the thinking of pro-life folk who insist on babies being born whether they will be cared for or not, but not offering to take the responsibility on themselves for their care.

  7. JAC, aka The Professor of Death: The hyperzealous will twist and contort anything in a pathetic effort to support their very damp illogic. Ah, “The (seeming) humanity!”

    I am proud to be among BKLawson’s wicked.

  8. As I have pointed out before, people who romanticize fetuses almost never have experience with severe fetal defects.

    Religious people love to talk about “the dignity of life” even as God seems to try desperately to inflict as many innovative undignified conditions on humans as he possibly can. Only hard-won scientific knowledge has provided relief.

  9. The question you asked seems little different than the trolley car problem. Which is better: 1) Baby dies after suffering horribly? or 2) Baby dies peacefully? Neither is what we would like, but we have to choose between two bads, so let’s choose the least suffering.

    Sounds like a question from Ethics 101. Why are these people freaking out?

    1. It is almost axiomatic that the degree of freakout is inversely proportional to the level of understanding paid to the actual question.

  10. Jebus, can’t these people read and understand what you are saying, without going all “Every life is precious” and “god is the answer to everything” on us? It’s not that difficult folks.

    Before I was born, my parents had a baby, born with a hole in his heart. Nowadays, this condition can be repaired, but not back then. My mother says that he used to scream in pain sometimes. She would sit by his crib and “pray” that he would die, just to end his pain. Of course, my mom, being a devout catholic, would NEVER have consented to euthanasia for this child. Despite watching him suffer horribly. Such is the craziness of religious belief. Better to watch a baby scream in pain and die slowly than end its life quickly and painlessly. ‘Cause jesus likes suffering, don’t you know? And “It’s god’s will”. Baby Brian lived like this for 3 months!

    Parents with kids with Down syndrome always say what a “blessing” their kid is. But, they aren’t admitting how these kids suffer too. As a high school teacher, I saw how these kids would come to the school dances, all expectant and happy, only to be left out by the other teens when it came right down to it. Sure, the other teens were nice to them, and polite and tried to include them. But, no one wanted to slow dance with them, or ask them on a date or take them to prom (at least not in any serious way). And it’s not as if these children do not notice that they are different. They do. And it causes them to suffer. It’s fine if a parent wants to keep and raise their child with this condition, but don’t pretend it’s all a bed of roses. It’t not.

    I was with Lisa Dennis, until she talked about her son’s “confirmation at church” and how he “spiritually inspired all who witnessed his journey”. Ffs, the kid has no clue what he’s doing in church or what “confirmation” is. Seriously, give your head a shake woman.

    1. Parents with kids with Down syndrome always say what a “blessing” their kid is.

      Which is one of the main reasons why these things should not be left to parents to decide and both prenatal screening and abortion in cases of a long list of genetic diseases should be mandatory for all pregnancies (with abortion mandatory by law for those who refuse to undergo prenatal testing). While many people are rational enough to do the sensible thing in such situations, there are still many who are not. There is no arguing with stupid, only force resolves such problems.

        1. Absolutely not.

          Just because a certain position seems unpalatable to your refined tastes it does not follow that it is incorrect.

    2. Clearly, as far as God is concerned, not every life is precious. Otherwise he would not allow some lives to be born into bodies that are incapable of sustaining them.

      1. The suffering of those voiceless lifeforms is mute testimony to the inventive sadism of Ghod. Verily, did man create Ghod in his own image.

    3. Jebus, can’t these people read and understand what you are saying, without going all “Every life is precious” and “god is the answer to everything” on us?

      Yes. They can’t read & understand etc … It’s a conditioned response, like the tightening of various of my ring-muscles as I strap myself into a HUET machine, or as I go over the edge of a 100m drop on an 8mm rope. Logically, I know that I can look after myself in the training torture machine, and tht it’s up to me to prevent the rope touching rock and wearing through. But I still twitch internally as I close and tighten that seat harness, or ease my weight onto the descender.
      Similarly, for a lot of people it is easier to resort to platitudes berated into them by their authority-figures than it is to actually deal with the fact that there is suffering going on in these circumstances with no possibility of relief. They can’t face the fearful reality, so they resort to platitudes which give them meaningless succour.
      Does EN_US have the phrase “running about like a rabbit in the headlights”?

    4. “Parents with kids with Down syndrome always say what a “blessing” their kid is.”

      It’s known as ‘making the best of it’. If it helps them to get through the day, then fine. Somewhere deep down they must know they’re deluding themselves, but since the alternative is to recognize what a burden their kid is, which would probably then lead to resentment, it’s probably best to cater to their self-delusion.

      — UNTIL they [some of them] start arguing against e.g. pre-natal screening for Downs. Then any indulgence needs to stop abruptly. They have no right to inflict the same burdens upon others.


    5. “Sure, the other teens were nice to them, and polite and tried to include them. But, no one wanted to slow dance with them, or ask them on a date or take them to prom (at least not in any serious way).”

      And who would? Teens at that age are, either overtly or implicitly, out to find a good companion, and they’re naturally going to go for the most attractive* one they can find. (*By whatever standards ‘attractive’ is judged).

      And in terms of dates, that doesn’t reflect back in a proportional distribution at all. People with all the social skills always get dates. People with maybe 80% of their social skills don’t get 80% as many dates, they may get a date by random chance after the successful ones have swept the field. (And I say that from rueful experience as an erstwhile 80-per-cent-er). Downs sufferers are way down the tail of the pecking order. It must be hell for them, emotionially.


  11. When I was doing my nursing training, long ago, I had an assignment on euthanasia and decided to ask the views of one of the ministers at a church near my house in Birmingham (UK). He was an ex-GP (family physician) and to my surprise said, in his strong Scottish accent, “When it’s time tae bump ’em off, you bump ’em off, we all did it”.

  12. I am constant amazed at the hysterical convulsions fly in to when they think someone (usually an evil amoral atheist) is not treating any and all human mortal life as something to preserve at all costs.

    While at the same time they worship a God who shows no such care at all for our earthly life – cursing all mankind with death and suffering (The Fall) and allowing untold fetuses, babies, children, men and woman, begging for help and succour, to suffer and perish every day.

    It’s hard to imagine living a life that fully hypocritical.

  13. Dr. Coyne,
    It is unfair of you to bait the fools with underdeveloped cognitive powers.

    Fun but unfair.

  14. Jesus H, your opponents act as though you want to snuff any newborn with an Apgar score below 8.

    I admire your doughtiness in keeping this issue out there, boss.

    1. For those who don’t know this, it’s a way to highlight individuals who have a Jewish background, and is usually anti-Semitic. It’s just a slam on me here, especially because I don’t even accept the tenets of Judaism.

  15. I feel the same way Jerry does about Lisa Dennis and her son. I unreservedly think it is wonderful that she raised her disabled son, that he enjoys life and that she and he have a loving relationship.

    I also think that what Lisa Dennis and Paige Rogers have done with that article is reprehensible. It is a rather direct form of lying. And a particularly nasty form of lying because it is at the expense of someone else’s character. It doesn’t surprise me, I rather expect it from certain quarters. Like from dedicated religious believers.

    I don’t know if they are motivated by virtue signaling, the age old enmity of the religious towards non-believers, religiously or politically motivated hatred of intellectuals / science, a need to justify decisions they have made, or what. But this kind of willingness to dishonestly and or thoughtlessly and carelessly malign someone else for selfish reasons thus demonstrating the bankruptcy of true Christian ethics is positively cliche, though still nasty to see. It should be called out whenever it happens.

  16. There are continuums (continua?) where you can’t definitively point to a specific cut-off or tipping point. It’s not realistic to apply the slippery slope argument only because you can’t pinpoint the exact point. I read this in a book or post from Richard Dawkins once. He explained it much better.

    For example, there is a big difference in preventing a zygote from implanting in the uterus and killing a newborn infant. Although it’s hard to draw the line when the fetus becomes an infant, it doesn’t mean that the zygote is a human deserving the same rights as an infant.

    There is no reason to think that euthanizing a very small percentage of infants because they are terminally ill and suffering will lead to mass euthanization of imperfect infants.

    The slippery slope argument is scary, but I don’t think it’s realistic.

    1. I usually consider that anyone trying to use the slippery-slope argument has no genuine points to base their argument on. It usually leads on to a straw-man argument.

      It’s the next best thing to [making shit up].


  17. Jerry, I think it might be prudent to shift the focus away from termination of lift and towards palliative care.

    It is, of course, true that the most effective forms of palliative care — morphine, for example — are associated with a significantly elevated risk of death. But, in a situation where imminent death is assured, one needn’t be especially concerned about a treatment that shaves a few percent off remaining hours.

    Do what is necessary to give the patient true ease and comfort, and let nature take its course.

    I would heartily agree that physician-assisted suicide is the truly civilized answer…but compassionately complete palliative care is dignified and already legal.



    1. I agree and disagree. Palliative care is not that effective in all cases, such as eg. lytic metastases in the vertebrae. You can pump in as much morfine -in combination with other painkillers- as you want, the patients still suffer pain, often severe pain, at the slightest movement (I know what I’m talking about).
      On the other hand,I agree much more could be done in palliative care (but all this deviates somewhat from Jerry’s point about terminally malformed babies).

      1. Agreed about the effectiveness of painkillers against certain types of pain. It is often suggested that there is never any need for assisted dying, because “good palliative care” obviates the need. This is a lie in many cases, where even the strongest painkillers are ineffective.

  18. Does this mean Jerry is the Dr. Kevorkian of the newly born? Kevorkian became accepted and appreciated by many after the screaming and crying died down. Hang in there.

  19. Here in Britain, and I’m sure the same applies in the USA, if a person has a pet that is suffering and in pain with no hope of recovery, then if that person keeps the animal alive they are liable to face prosecution on a charge of animal cruelty through causing an animal unnecessary suffering, even if they are also providing medical care. If found guilty they are generally fined, occasionally imprisoned and may face up to a lifetime ban on keeping animals. They are also generally reviled by the public. Yet the exact opposite applies when the sufferer is human.
    I’ve asked many opponents of euthanasia why it is that they are more concerned over the quality of life of pets than of humans, even when those humans have expressed their wishes to be euthanized, but so far have never been given a satisfactory response.
    So, how about it? Would any opponent of giving seriously and terminally ill humans a dignified and as far as possible pain-free death mind telling me why you demand that humans must suffer yet non-humans must not?

  20. Much of the criticism can be written off offhand, but Lisa’s diatribe is particularly mistaken, mean and vicious.
    Jerry was talking specifically about suffering babies that are terminal. Trisomy 21 does not qualify there, since 1 – they are not terminal, and 2 – they generally do not suffer more than any other baby.
    I’m a great ‘believer’ in the incremental process: up to, say, 12 weeks of pregnancy: abortion on demand, for pressing psychological or socioeconomic reasons a bit more, say eg., 16 or 18 weeks, for malformation of the foetus or rape, up to say 20 or 23 weeks. And indeed for the hopeless and suffering cases Jerry referred to, until after birth.

    1. Whilst I can appreciate the sentiment behind time-based restrictions on abortion, all overlook a pair of inescapable facts.

      First, there’s the mother. Unless you’re in favor of forcing parents into tissue and organ donation for their already-born offspring, you’ve no grounds for forcing women to carry foeteuses to term. Yes, we can admire those who make such sacrifices, but we can hardly condemn those whose calculus goes the other way. If saving your one child means sacrificing your own life…and if sacrificing your life condemns the rest of your children to lives of poverty…and if the child you’re trying to save isn’t likely to thrive, anyway…can you really be blamed for not rushing into the collapsing burning building?

      Second, time-based restrictions on abortion ignore that late-term abortions are vanishingly rare in the first place and overwhelmingly only are sought in heartbreaking situations such as anacephaly or when severe complications present that significantly threaten the woman’s chance of survival. Were there a real problem of frivolous late-term abortions, one could possibly make a case for regulating them…but there’s exactly as much of a problem as there is for frivolous amputations. Maybe you can find some rare examples, but nowhere near enough to warrant criminalization.

      Unless you buy into the religious bullshit of ensoulment at conception, there’s no reason whatsoever to suspect an epidemic of medical malpractice amongst OB-GYN physicians — and, therefore, no more reason for criminal oversight in that branch of medicine than in any other.




      1. Admire is a bit strong word. I am not sure I admire women who sacrifice knowing their child is going to be a burden to them, even a healthy child. I understand parent’s choices (usually faith directed) but not admire.

        1. Agreed. I think ‘misguided heroism’ is probably the most charitable term that applies and that is not admirable.

          C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre as General Bosquet put it in another context.


      2. I’m well aware these late term abortions are rare, but not inexistent either. Of course, if the mother’s life is in danger I’d say anytime.
        What I like about the incremental thing, the ‘time restrictions’, is that it recognises that the forming of a human being is a gradual process, from a blob of cells to a ‘full little human being’ (Yoh, yoh, that sounds bad! But you get the point).

        1. Nobody contests the gradualism inherent in neonatal development.

          The problem here is that, though you admit that there isn’t an actual problem with unethical behavior by OB-GYNs, you still want to impose dramatic criminal oversight into their practice.

          Why is everybody ready to toss doctors and parents in jail for exercising proper due diligence in standard of care matters, but nobody’s calling for the same with respect to, for example, the prescription opioid addiction epidemic?

          And, no — I’m not advocating for criminal sanctions against doctors and pharmacists to “solve” the opioid crisis. I’m just pointing out the rampant (and, all too often, patronizingly patriarchicaly sexist) hypocrisy amongst those who would criminalize a certain common and medically-necissary procedure.




  21. Maybe embrace “Professor Death”: considering the scholarly study of (~99% extinct) life.

    Although, I think “Professor Coyne” has a nicer ring to it. I’ll stick with that.

  22. Resident neonatologist here. I completely agree with Dr. Coyne. The comments are directed at a very limited population. I have personally experienced wrenching cases of babies with problems like these–those with minimal brain activity, with brain malformations, or severe brain damage, or inoperable, untreatable conditions that require intensive care to keep alive. In these circumstances most parents withdraw support. There are those who feel that they can’t for a variety of reasons.
    What these parents don’t understand is the it is the staff, the doctors, therapists, and especially the nurses who are providing the day to day bedside care, some of which is inevitably painful. We are all people who love babies and will do anything to a baby (while trying to minimize pain) if there is hope for recovery. However when there is no hope, the care being provided is merely prolonging the dying. And it involves pain. I always want to suggest that the parents remain at the bedside for 24/7 for a while and actually provide the care themselves including the inflicting the painful parts (eg. suctioning, blood draws, IVs, dressing changes, many more). I suggest the proponents of “life at all costs” do the same. You don’t know unless you have been at the bedside. Nurses and doctors go home in tears.
    We treat the pain as well as we can but there are side effects, etc.
    Even removing intensive support can lead to babies dying while gasping–this may take hours. We use morphine to treat the discomfort. Why not a little more to STOP the pain? I “have heard of such things happening”. Those that object should watch a baby like that die and see if they don’t rethink their position.

    1. Thanks for your wise words from experience.

      It is a common folly of our species to judge others based solely on emotion. Outrage suspends thought and leads to the ridiculous criticisms PCC(E) is receiving.

  23. I wonder if these right wing and religious pundits ever stop to consider the irony, and hypocrisy, of their position. They complain like mad at the antics of the regressive left, especially universities trying to ban free speech, then do precisely the same in attempting to stifle debate about a subject at which they feign horror. It’s pathetic.

  24. Everyone disagreeing with you on this topic should look at the lives of children born with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), and think again.

  25. I read your views as meaning infants born with severe issues like anencephaly, not something as survivable as downs or cerebral palsy. I think that’s what most people don’t understand, not counting the religious who understand less.
    No doubt you can live a full and rewarding life with CP, but that’s not what we’re discussing. It’s a strawbaby.
    Unless I’m missing something.

  26. Great teaser post – I look forward to seeing you against the Avengers after that Infinity War dust-up.

  27. If ‘braindead’ had been a qualification for euthanasia, it seems to me that most of these adversaries wouldn’t be around to attack you.



  28. “And from reader BK Lawson:
    When all of you people who support murdering babies end up in Hell, let me know how that worked out for you. Playing God is up to God – not you.”
    Reminds me of my all-time favorite movie line, from Steve Martin’s “The Man with Two Brains”. I forget the exact details, but Martin has transplanted a brain from one body to another, or something like that. Assistant: “Doctor, you’re playing God.” Martin: “Well, somebody has to.”

      1. 🙂

        The irony of the ‘You’re playing God’ accusation is that the theist themself is the one ‘playing God’; if they really thought that these matters were for God to decide then they should be agnostic about killing children, whoever does it, and at whatever age.

        In fact, they often appeal to God’s mysterious ways, and some greater good, if a child does die, either ‘naturally’ or by human action. Since God is ultimately responsible for all creation I’ve no idea why they don’t conclude that the merciful killing of a hopeless terminal case isn’t God’s work too.

        1. “Since God is ultimately responsible for all creation I’ve no idea why they don’t conclude that the merciful killing of a hopeless terminal case isn’t God’s work too.”

          It’s just instinctive natural perversity. Part of the guilt-complex of original sin that is indoctrinated into all good Xtians. Since merciful killing is so obviously sensible and minimises the suffering of all concerned, it’s therefore too logical and easy and there must be something wrong with it. The suffering must be increased (preferably someone else’s suffering, natch) until their God is appeased.


          1. Christianity is a cult of pain. This list (with supporting quotes from Mother Teresa and other Christian saints and luminaries) of the benefits “[s]uffering borne patiently” brings is mind-boggling but telling:



            Purifies & tries us
            Expiates our sins (and those of others [!])
            Makes us more Christ-like
            Is necessary to gain heaven
            Is for our good
            Brings us closer to Christ
            Etc. [!]

        2. “Since God is ultimately responsible for all creation I’ve no idea why they don’t conclude that the merciful killing of a hopeless terminal case isn’t God’s work too.”

          Because God gave us free will to tempt us into committing sins like this. It’s a test.

          1. But to say that this or that act is a sin is ‘playing God’, which according to them is a terrible thing (a sin?!). This theist logic goes round in circles!

  29. There’s something weird in this response by Dennis and Rogers, namely the fact that it doesn’t answer Jerry’s position at all.

    Jerry’s position was that in some cases when it’s completely clear that an infant will die and great suffering will go with it, euthanasia is the moral thing to do.

    In response we get a completely unrelated story about a kid with trisomy 21, who clearly doesn’t fit the above category.

    I don’t think this is because Dennis or Roger misrepresented Jerry’s argument by accident.

    1. They may have followed the developments following legalization of adult euthanasia in some European countries. First the public is told that it will be only for terminally ill patients in very severe pain. Next thing we hear, a lady with depression is euthanized because her son didn’t visit her often enough, then a transgender person not happy with his gender reassignment surgery, then a rape victim in her 20s.

      1. Sources, or it didn’t happen. Also see my earlier response on criteria for euthanasia in The Netherlands. They completely refute what you are asserting here without any evidence. The number of euthanasia cases did increase in the Netherlands, but that was something that was to be expected. First you have no (legal) euthanasia, and then you do, so it increases from zero to whatever number we have right now.

        1. I am sorry, I answered to the wrong comment. The name of the depression victim was Godelieva de Troyer. She was 64. There are many reports about her, most in right-wing sources of course.

          The trans man was Nathan Verhelst; most reports, however, write of him anonymously as a transgender patient who considered himself a “monster” after his surgery. Here is a report in the National Post:

        2. The name of the sex abuse victim is not revealed. Here is an Independent report about her:

          Of course, many would say that euthanasing these individuals at their request was the right thing to do. I am not discussing this, but the fact that before legalizing euthanasia, the public is told that it will be only for such-and-such conditions, and once it is legal, it turns out that legions of people in totally different situations are put to it.

          1. “legions of people” ?

            So far you’ve found three. And at least two of those would certainly have been capable of committing suicide for themselves without making headlines – and probably would have done – if they hadn’t found euthanasia to be preferable.


          2. I expected this objection. I needed minutes to find the 3 cases. Every one of them had reasons to gain notoriety. The sex abuse victim – because of her age. The trans man – because of the current interest in transsexual matters. Ms. de Troyer’s case was made known by her son Tom, who, after having his life ruined by his mother’s euthanasia, is trying to save others from the same fate. This case is remarkable because, despite the insistence that euthanasia will be decided together with the patient’s family, Tom was not informed until it was time to collect the body; and also because at least one doctor of the panel was against the euthanasia, but it was nevertheless allowed to proceed.

            In 2015, of a total of 5,516 cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands, 56 were for psychiatric reasons, and 109 for dementia.

          3. You imply strongly that people with dementia should be denied control over the ends of their lives, or that those who care for them would callously murder dementia patients for selfish reasons.

            For many people, dementia is the worst horror imaginable. You might suggest that some drooling, babbling old fool not in physical pain is not a candidate for physician-assisted suicide, but my own father, had he not died of other causes while his mind was still strong, would have unhesitatingly put a gun to his head sooner than let himself turn into such. I would, too.

            We must protect the vulnerable, yes, absolutely. But I have yet to see evidence that the vulnerable are at greater risk in jurisdictions with physician-assisted suicide than in other jurisdictions.

            Indeed, the opposite almost certainly holds, when you consider the horrors of elder abuse disproportionately prevalent in the conservative parts of the States where opposition to physician-assisted suicide is greatest.

            That’s another point that your anecdata misses. One-off examples mean diddly-squat in matters of public health policy. You can always find exceptions. Show us examples of un-prosecuted systemic abuse. Like, for example, those Catholic “homes” for bastard children (in the ’50s, I think?) with the newly-discovered mass graves that made headlines a few months back.




          4. Ben,

            You say in the same breath that people with dementia are entitled to control over their lives like everybody else, and that they are “drooling, babbling old fools”.

            You are right that elderly people who no longer can look after themselves, as well as other vulnerable people, are often subject to horrific abuse. But I do not like a society which denies them proper care while having ready an anesthesiologist with a lethal injection.

          5. But I do not like a society which denies them proper care while having ready an anesthesiologist with a lethal injection.

            Then you have no reason to object to physician-assisted suicide, for it’s the societies that provide proper care for all citizens that are also providing for physician-assisted suicide. Those societies that neglect the disadvantaged are the ones also most in opposition to providing compassionate end-of-life treatment options.




          6. “At least two of those would certainly have been capable of committing suicide for themselves without making headlines – and probably would have done – if they hadn’t found euthanasia to be preferable.”

            To me, this is a very important aspect of the matter. None of the three individuals was physically disabled, and two of them lived in Belgium where gun laws are lax. So they could end their lives by suicide. It is difficult for me to imagine why in this situation the sufferer will engage other people with his decision and will wait until panels of experts discuss his case (in the case of the Dutch rape victim, 2 years). I find this difficult to reconcile with the alleged unbearable and incurable nature of the suffering, and think of “pleas for help”.

          7. It’s inconceivable to you why somebody might wish to trust a trained anesthesiologist to administer “sleep now” drugs as opposed to splattering their brains against the wall?

            Have you any clue how awful the pull-the-trigger option is for all involved, even when everything goes “right”? Or how much gripping strength it takes to pull the trigger — often more than somebody with severe arthritis can manage? How many people miss — and not only those afflicted with some sort of palsy? Or who don’t miss but do survive? Let’s not forget poor Phinneas Gage, who took a railroad spike clear through the skull and lived for years after. And, again…would you really want your family around for your final moments with a gun?

            I mentioned previously that I’d do so, myself, rather than suffer mindlessness — but I should hasten to add: only as a last resort!

            Have you no heart?



          8. So maya, what you’re saying is that they really deep down didn’t want to do what they consistently and repeatedly said they wanted to do and spent a long time and considerable effort to achieve?

            This is not the thread on Freud.


          9. Yes. If not anything else, the “long time” would make me doubt. Maybe for some of them, the talk with experts during the procedure was the only human conversation they could manage. Maybe some wanted to make a statement. I have no idea.

            As for Freud: I am not Freud, but I do not accept statements at face value, especially when they are contradicted by actions.

          10. Well if you have no idea you can hardly use your interpretation as evidence to support your position, can you?

            (And if you read your own links, you will see that at least one of them had extensive contacts with friends).


  30. “I will say again that DNA testing should be made available (or required; sort of like the old testing before marriage for venereal diseases) of individuals planning to marry, and of foetuses before they are born. Also, post-birth testing of babies for potential health defects that can be treated early should include more than is currently done. Everything that can prevent human suffering should be done proactively first. But, sympathy for a living but terminal sufferer, whether baby, child or adult should be carefully considered by those closest to them, in conference with doctors.”

    Today’s news:

    “In Breakthrough, Scientists Edit a Dangerous Mutation From Genes …”

    1. You do know that Death is one of the most sympathetic and humane characters in Discworld and many readers’ favourite character?


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