Pro-Life Advocates Say Anglican Church Didn’t Back Newborn Euthanasia

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 13, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Advocates Say Anglican Church Didn’t Back Newborn Euthanasia

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 13
, 2006

London, England ( — Pro-life advocates are saying that media coverage in England of the Anglican Church is erroneous and that claims saying it is backing a call for euthanasia of severely disabled newborns are off base. British media reports had the church supporting a call by the nation’s leading doctor’s group for allowing the euthanasia of infants.

The media quoted Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler, who supposedly said there may be circumstances when the euthanasia of babies with significant physical or mental handicaps is morally acceptable.

However, Wesley J. Smith, an attorney and leading bioethics observed in the U.S., says that’s not what Butler is proposing.

"[I]t appears that the Church has ratified the right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment in some circumstances, which is a different matter altogether," Smith explained.

"Withholding life-sustaining treatment is not the same thing at all as active killing," Smith adds.

Dr. Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship in England, agreed with Smith’s assessment.

"If it’s an underlying condition that’s causing the death and you’re withholding the treatment because you believe that that treatment’s burden far outweighs any benefit it can bring, then it might be quite appropriate," he said.

Butler’s submission to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which is looking into ethical issues brought about by advances in medicine, followed one from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, which said killing the infants is preferable to any extensive surgeries or other treatments.

The Catholic Church has opposed the British doctor’s group on the issue.

"While it is both moral and legal to withhold or withdraw aggressive medical treatment in such cases when it is futile or unduly burdensome, it can never be right to sanction action aimed at the deliberate killing of an innocent human being," it said in a statement.

"The Times needs to do better," Smith concluded about the London Times’ coverage of Butler’s paper on the subject.

"As we have seen so many times in the embryonic stem cell/cloning controversy, it is crucial for the media to keep the terms and definitions straight when discussing ethically contentious issues," he said.

Disability rights groups have joined the churches and pro-life advocates in condemning the idea.

Alison Davis of No Less Human, says disabled people are "appalled and afraid" by the suggestion.

"Already we are aware that disabled babies are killed up to birth because of ‘severe disability,’" she said, pointing to the abortion of unborn children with disabilities.

"Once it is established that killing is acceptable on grounds of disability it is inevitable that it will spread to encompass increasing numbers of victims," Davis, who has both spina bifida and hydrocephalus, explained.

Davis said her group would join with the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children to protest outside the RCOG headquarters and would launch a petition against the organization’s position.

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.

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 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.

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.