British Bioethics Council: Kill Severely Disabled Premature Babies

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 15, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Bioethics Council: Kill Severely Disabled Premature Babies Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 15
, 2006

London, England ( — After a fierce debate which saw the nation’s doctor’s group support the euthanasia of severely disabled newborn babies, a British bioethics council is recommending just that. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics says disabled babies who are born prematurely should not be routinely resuscitated.

The council is expected to set forth guidelines for doctors and patients and suggest that disabled babies born after 22 weeks into the pregnancy or earlier be left to die rather than given proper medical assistance.

The final version of the report will also set out methods of resolving disputes between patients and physicians about the fate of disabled babies.

According to a report in The Age newspaper, parents’ wishes are only to be taken into account beginning at the 23rd week of pregnancy.

Approximately 300 babies are born each year at about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

"We know that for many people and especially those with firsthand experience, this is an upsetting subject," Professor Margaret Brazier, one of the members of the Nuffield Council, said.

However, pro-life groups and the Catholic church strongly oppose killing disabled newborns.

"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," the Catholic Church said in a statement.

Alison Davis of No Less Human, a disability rights groups, says disabled people are "appalled and afraid" by the council’s 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.

British doctors groups disagreed about the need for the report with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists calling for the euthanasia of disabled babies and the British Medical Association saying guidelines aren’t needed.

Dr. Vivienne Nathanson said the BMA welcomes suggestions but "we would not be so happy about an overall recommendation on resuscitating babies at 22 weeks."

The Royal College insisted euthanasia 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 final draft of the report is also expected to make suggestions about when parents should consider an abortion of a disabled baby. British law allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and beyond in limited circumstances.

The council’s report 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.