Sackcloth and Ashes: What's Wrong With Infanticide?

[Note: Sackcloth and ashes were a sign of deep mourning, among other things, in the Torah...nowadays, there are plenty of reasons to bring them back. When we run across those reasons, we'll feature them in a continuing series, of which this is the first installment.]

"You have to remember parents have a bond with their children that doctors and nurses cannot have. It is vital they feel they remain in control." That's a comment in the Coventry Evening Telegraph by one Anita Macaulay about the judge's decision in the controversial family law case that ought to serve as one of the ever-growing number of signs of the apocalypse (along with the popularity, of course, of Ryan Seacrest).

In brief: A group of British doctors fought in court for the right to remove a fully-conscious little boy from a ventilator, over the objections of his parents, because they judged his quality of life to not be worth living. There's more here about the case.

The boy, referred to only as MB in court papers, is conscious and awake. His parents want his ventilation to be continued. But they had to fight to do so over the objections of the doctors, who argue that it would be in MB's "best interests" to be taken off of his ventilator.

(Please note: it is the official blog advice of Red America that if your own physician ever tells you that it's in your "best interest" to hurry up and die, you ought to at least get a second opinion.)

Thankfully, in this case, the judge sided with the parents. But this raises the question of whether such matters should be the purview of judges at all.

[MB's] 29-year-old father and 22-year-old mother, from the north of England, fought for ventilation to be continued, arguing that his quality of life was worth living for - describing how he enjoys the company of his family, music and stories, cartoons and watching films such as Shrek and Toy Story.
In a statement released after the ruling, the family's solicitor Chris Gawne said MB's relatives were "delighted" with the decision. Mr Gawne said: "The family and I are delighted that the judgment by Mr Justice Holman has given Baby MB the right to continue his life. The judgment given shows recognition that Baby MB does have quality of life and that his life is worth living. His parents feel vindicated by the judgment, which they feel proves what they have felt to be true all along."

The real debate here is a much broader one than the lot of one child in a hospital bed: Does the state have the right and power to deprive an innocent living person of life, having been convicted of no crime, simply because a group of people believe they ought not be allowed to live? If enough medical doctors get together and make one recommendation, are we compelled to follow it? (One wonders about the political ramifications. I assume there are enough Democrat doctors in America that they could've removed old Strom Thurmond from office a long time ago, rest his soul.)

It's one thing to rely on such recommendations to deprive an innocent person of liberty in an extreme situation (quarantine during an outbreak comes to mind), but that's a step that's only taken in defense of society. What was the harm of MB's life? How did his life, sadly shortened by disease, become an outrage? Does this mean that if MB stops enjoying Shrek or laughing with his parents, the doctors will deny him care?

One wonders what the doctors would say about Stephen Hawking, who has a disorder with similar physical ramifications. Surely, according to the arbiters of what lives have value, the quality of life for such a man, paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, must be intolerable. And he should have died years ago, too - no one with ALS, the doctors said, ever lives past sixty. But perhaps he still likes to watch Shrek.

It'd be nice to look away from all this, to think that it is a strange and unrepresentative circumstance in Western Civilization. But when you consider that it comes a year removed from the Netherlands' adoption of the so-called Groningen Protocol, which allows doctors to kill innocent newborns if the doctor thinks the child is terminally ill, the outline of a slippery slope becomes clearer.

When a group of people are given the de facto authority to decide that a living human boy is not a person, and therefore has none of the protections due to every person, we have crossed a very dangerous line. As ethicist Wesley J. Smith once wrote: "The ultimate purpose of personhood analysis is to determine whom we can kill and still get a good night's sleep."

By Ben Domenech |  March 22, 2006; 11:07 AM ET | Email a Comment
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