Allow 'active euthanasia' for disabled babies, doctors urge

Doctors are urging health regulators to consider allowing the "active euthanasia" of severely disabled newborn babies.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology has put forward the option of permitting mercy killings of the sickest infants to a review of medical ethics.

It says "active euthanasia" should be considered for the overall benefit of families who would otherwise suffer years of emotional and financial suffering.

Deliberate action to end infants' lives may also reduce the number of late abortions, since it would allow women the chance to decide whether their disabled child should live.

"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 college writes in a submission to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

"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."

Such mercy killings are already allowed in the Netherlands for incurable conditions such as severe spina bifida. John Harris, a member of the official Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University, welcomed the college's submission. "We can terminate for serious foetal abnormality up to term, but cannot kill a newborn," he told The Sunday Times. "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?"

Dr Pieter Sauer, co-author of the Groningen Protocol, the guidelines governing infant euthanasia in the Netherlands, said British medics already carry out mercy killings and should be allowed to do so in the open. "English neonatologists gave me the indication that this is happening."

But the paper quoted John Wyatt, consultant neonatologist at University College Hospital, as saying: "Intentional killing is not part of medical care... once you introduce the possibility of intentional killing you change the fundamental nature of medicine. It becomes a subjective decision of whose life is worthwhile."

Simone Aspis of the British Council of Disabled People said: "Euthanasia for disabled newborns tells society that being born disabled is a bad thing. If we introduced euthanasia for certain conditions, it would tell adults with those conditions that they are worth less than other members of society."

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