A major battle in France pits the parents of a disabled prematurely-born baby against doctors — as the parents want doctors to stop life support for their son because he is severely disabled.
The baby boy, named Titouan was born on August 31, four months before he was slated to be born. The baby weighed two pounds at birth and suffered from an intracerebral haemorrhage. Doctors at University Hospital Center of Poitiers say he has brain damage and they are unable to determine the extent of it. The baby’s parents, Mélanie and Aurélien, say doctors have informed them that their son will be severely disabled and paralyzed on one side of his body.
“If we want to be able to fully understand the consequences [of the haemorrhage], we can’t rush this. We need a few weeks to evaluate his condition,” said Professor Fabrice Pierre, of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Poitiers CHU, on French TV channel France Bleu. “Currently, we are not giving him intensive treatment; we are simply giving him life support to give us the time to do a proper evaluation.”
But Titouan’s parents want to take him off life support now.
“We made this decision over a week ago,” said the baby’s mother, Mélanie, who was interviewed by France Info. “Who wants their son to live the life of a handicapped person? Maybe some families want this, but we don’t.”
The law appears to allow doctors to make the decision:
Currently, euthanasia is illegal in France, though the 2005 law says that doctors are allowed to end or refrain from using treatments or care that result in the artificial prolongation of life, as long as the family agrees with the doctor’s decision. This is often referred to as “passive euthanasia,” or withholding treatments necessary to the continuation of life.
Importantly, the 2005 law also puts the decision in the hands of the doctors.
Faced with the repeated demands of Titouan’s parents, CHU’s neonatal unit sought out the advice of an ethics panel. They have yet to make a decision.
The case is being referred to as one of child euthanasia by French media, but noted anti-euthanasia advocate Alex Schadenberg says it’s incorrect to refer to it as such.
“The case of a premature baby in France, where the parents are demanding that medical treatment be discontinued and while the doctors believe that the child needs more time, is not a case of euthanasia, as the media has reported, but rather a case of who has the right to decide to withdraw medical treatment,” he explains. “Labelling this case as euthanasia creates a false impression of what euthanasia is and is not. Euthanasia is to directly and intentionally cause the death of a person. It is usually done by lethal injection and it is a form of homicide.”
“If the doctors withdraw all treatment from Titouan, and if he dies, it would be a natural death, unless they lethally inject him or intentionally dehydrate him to death,” he concludes.