by Steven Ertelt
November 6, 2006
London, England (LifeNews.com) — England’s leading physicians organization has generated a firestorm of controversy by suggesting that doctors use euthanasia to kill newborn babies who are born prematurely and have severe brain damage or major physical problems.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology suggests killing the infants is preferable to any extensive surgeries or other treatments.
The suggestion came in the form of a list of recommendations to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which is looking into ethical issues brought about by advances in medicine.
Euthanasia is prohibited in England but the Royal College insisted it be included in the guidelines and suggested that medical care for extremely disabled babies would be a financial, social and emotional drain on the parents.
"A very disabled child can mean a disabled family. If life-shortening and deliberate interventions to kill infants were available, they might have an impact on obstetric decision-making," the group wrote, according to a London Times news report.
"We would like the working party to think more radically about non-resuscitation, withdrawal of treatment decisions, the best interests test, and active euthanasia, as they are ways of widening the management options available to the sickest of newborns," it added.
The recommendation included both active euthanasia, directly killing a newborn, and passive euthanasia, which would included cases where lifesaving medical treatment would be withheld.
The group also said promoting euthanasia would reduce late-term abortions as parents could go ahead with the birth and kill the baby afterwards if they decide she would have too much trouble leading a healthy life.
The UK’s Disabled People’s Council vehemently rejected the idea and said doctors don’t have a right to determine which disabled patients live or die.
Nancy Valko, a spokeswoman for Nurses for Life in the United States, also objected to the Royal College’s call for euthanasia.
"There are many people who think that a bright line can be drawn at birth and therefore do not want to get involved in abortion controversy," Valko told LifeNews.com.
"This [call for euthanasia] shows the connection," she added. "As one doctor says, ‘What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it OK to kill the foetus at one end of the birth canal but not the other?’"
The call comes just weeks after the second part of a study showing doctors in England are less likely to engage in euthanasia or assisted suicide than their European counterparts.
When British physicians do engage in those practices they normally don’t intervene until a patient has less than a week to live.
That’s the conclusion of an article that will soon be published in the Palliative Medicine journal and the results of the study are based on a survey of 857 doctors.
Clive Seale, the Brunel University professor who conducted the research, is also the author of a previous study which found euthanasia played a role in the deaths of nearly 3,000 patients in 2004.
In the new survey, Seale compared the attitudes of British doctors with those in the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Holland, Belgium and Switzerland have legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Seale found that British doctors were more likely to discuss end of life issues with colleagues but more cautious in killing a patient.
He found that doctors were less likely to move ahead with assisted suicide or euthanasia because of the British culture’s higher reliance on shared decision-making and palliative care as well as fears of prosecution.
In his previous study, Seale found that British doctors do not want to see the legalization of assisted suicide despite a campaign to do that.
But it also found that, of the 584,791 deaths in the UK in 2004, 936 were by voluntary euthanasia and 1,930 involved the doctor killing the patient without the patient’s consent, though a large portion of those deaths included patients who died during the normal course of medical treatment.
Of the euthanasia deaths, one-third of them were the result of doctors treating the symptoms of a disease or injury and just under a third involved doctors withholding treatment in cases when it is supposedly in the best interest of the patient.
Both of those courses of action are legal in Britain.
None of the doctors in the previous poll said they had been involved in an assisted suicide and just 2.6 percent of the physicians surveyed said it would be beneficial to change the law to allow it.
Last November, lawmakers in the House of Lords introduced a private members bill to legalize assisted suicide but pro-life, religious and doctor’s groups were able to defeat it.