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Letters: When a child needs to die

IT WAS with great interest that I read Michael Specter's "Ethics Man" (Review, 21 November). I was first introduced to Peter Singer's Practical Ethics at the University of Reading in the early 1980s. I could not have imagined the circumstances that led me back to it some 13 years later.

In December 1996 I gave birth to my fourth child and first son, Freddie. He was quite beautiful, but sadly was born with a severe brain disease of unknown type. He suffered constant fitting and was at first unable to feed by himself. As a mother, my instincts told me that this child needed to die; indeed I felt it was his right to do so. Doctors disagreed. Eight weeks later, my son and I were repatriated, and eventually he came into the care of the neurological unit at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. Doctors there agreed that my son's future was bleak and that all we could do was to try to relieve his suffering. My wish for an end to his suffering - and that of myself and the rest of my family - was so great that I requested that my son go into care. I was not prepared to countenance his continued existence, though neither was I able to end his life.

At this time I refound my sanity in Practical Ethics. It was an enormous relief to find someone who believed that it might not be wrong to end my son's life. Singer's actions towards his sick mother do indeed clash with his utilitarian ethic, showing that human behaviour does not always tolerate logical argument. Many carers of sick relatives secretly long for the death of their much-loved patients, while continuing to do everything possible for them. We learn that it is wrong to kill humans, but have no difficulty in releasing a much-loved pet from suffering. The conflict between ethic and action will continue until more people are strong and brave enough to challenge the notion that human life is sacred. My son died in May 1998. He was 16 months old.


Watermead, Buckinghamshire