How should we treat disabled infants?

Hi there,

Euthanasia is back in the news. A new report from a British think tank is highly critical. The author, Cristina Odone, argues that the “chattering classes” will suffer none of the harms of legalised euthanasia, protected as they are by their network of friends and colleagues. It is the vulnerable who will be expected to take early leave: the elderly without relatives, the poor, the disabled, and so on. It is a well-informed and impassioned essay.

One of the news items in this week’s newsletter might support her view. A paediatric palliative care doctor from Vancouver describes how he helped five newborn disabled infants to die. No doubt the children had a very short life expectancy. But his solution was to pump them so full of sedatives that they could not cry – or disturb the parents – and to withdraw all nutrition and hydration so that they died of thirst and starvation. But it was still very distressing for the parents to look on as their child became more and more emaciated until it passed away. At least one of the children lasted 26 days.

“It's very hard to study because this is ethically a very sensitive area,” he says. Is this the right way to deal with disabled newborns? Something doesn’t seem quite right here. Any ideas from readers?


Michael Cook


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