Since the evolution of man, infants have been born with severe illnesses. These infants may be able to survive due to advancing technologies, but are left with possible and probable defects. Many infants will die even though they are being treated because they are not equipped to sustain life. These circumstances have led to the debatable issue of infant euthanasia, or mercy killing, to allow these babies an end to their suffering, and die peacefully. While many people feel that euthanasia is murder, infant euthanasia should be legalized to spare terminally ill newborns of long, painful deaths, and to spare them of possible life-long disabilities.
Euthanasia is said to be morally wrong by pro-life groups. They point out that infant’s may not be suffering while they are dying. They also emphasize that advances in pain management make it possible to relieve all or almost all pain. These people say that children should be saved at all costs, no matter how great the disability may be. They accentuate that the infants may be saved due to advancing technology, and that there are also therapy treatments for their possible disabilities.
However, in considering whether or not to treat a newborn, the main goal should be to spare infants of long, painful deaths. Most experts believe that the primary answer to this issue is to follow what’s in the child’s best interests. If his mental and physical handicaps are overwhelming and it would be inhumane to prolong his life, then treatment should be withheld or withdrawn. After all, saving an infant for a life of suffering is hardly a humane and loving act. An infant was born with a skin condition similar to third-degree burns over almost all of its body for which there was no cure. The baby’s mother was young, unwed, and indigent. Providing basic nursing care caused tearing away of the skin. The infant could not be fed orally because of blistering in the mouth and throat. Any movement of the infant seemed to cause it pain. Even with intensive care its life expectancy, at most, was believed to be days. It would have been reasonable, merciful, and justifiable to have shortened the baby’s dying by an intended direct action chosen by the parent and the neonatologists. In cases relevantly like this, it is not immoral or morally wrong to intend and effect a merciful end to a life that, all things considered, will be meaningless to the one who lives it and an unwarranted burden for others to support. Among the women who work in the Stanford intensive care nursery, several said that if they were to have an extremely premature baby, they would not want it to be treated aggressively. One woman said that if she knew what was about to happen she would stay away from a hospital with a sophisticated intensive care unit. Others say they would make sure they were under the care of a doctor who would not press the extremes on survival. Many parents would make a similar choice but are not given the opportunity. It has been called a violation of God’s commandment not to kill. “…in effect, the demand that physicians fight death at all costs is a demand that they play God. It is a demand that they conquer nature, thereby declaring themselves more powerful than God’s order.” Perhaps the ideal of conquest will be replaced by the ideal of living in agreement with nature. The most benign technology works in harmony with natural causes rather than intruding on them. The “Baby Doe” rule is a list of guidelines stating that a baby should be treated aggressively with very few exceptions. These exceptions to the rule are when “the infant is chronically and irreversibly comatose”, when the treatment would merely prolong dying, not be effective in ameliorating or correcting all of the infant’s life-threatening conditions, or otherwise be futile in terms of the survival of the infant”, and when “treatment would be virtually futile in terms of the survival of the infant and the treatment itself under such circumstances would be inhumane…” This policy rather loudly states that parents and professionals may not consider the salvageable infant’s life prospects no matter how harmful they may appear. A graphic illustration of the potential harm in the treatment of a handicapped infant is provided by Robert and Peggy Stinson’s account of their son Andrew who was born at a gestational age of 24 1/2 weeks and a weight of 800 grams. He was placed on a respirator against his parents’ wishes and without their consent, and remained dependent on the respirator for five months, until he was finally permitted to die. The seemingly endless list of Andrew’s afflictions, almost all of which were iatrogenic, reveals how disastrous this hospitalization was. Baby Andrew was, in effect saved by the respirator to die five ling, painful, and expensive months later of the respirator’s side effects. “…the physicians who treated him violated an ancient and honored Hippocratic principle of professional ethics,`Primum non nocere’, First do no harm.” As shown in the examples above, infants that are treated aggressively will die more slowly and painfully than if they were allowed a quick and peaceful death.
By using aggressive treatment on severely ill infants, many are “saved” to live with life-long disabilities. To demand that physicians use intensive care technology beyond the point when it is likely to assist with a patient’s problems, as the Baby Doe regulations require, is to demand that they violate their professional commitment to do no harm. To argue that infants must be treated aggressively, no matter how great their disabilities, is to insist that the nursery become a torture chamber and that infants unequipped to live be deprived of their natural right to die. Helen Harrison, author of “The Premature Baby Book: a Parent’s Guide to Coping and Caring in the First Years”, wrote about how families are at the mercy of an accelerating life-support technology and of their physicians’ personal philosophies and motives concerning its use. She wrote after interviewing numerous parents and physicians in heartbreaking situations of delivery-room and nursery crises, “I sympathize with physicians’ concerns when parents request that there be no heroic measures. However, I sympathize infinitely more with families forced to live with the consequences of decisions made by others. Above all, I sympathize with infants saved for a lifetime of suffering.” The decisions involving the care of hopelessly ill and disabled newborns should be left to the traditional processes, to parents and physicians who do the best they can under difficult circumstances. B.D. Cohen, author of “Hard Choices” wrote, “Until such time as society is willing to pay the bill for truly humane institutions of twenty-four-hour home care for all such infants, to offer than death or living death, shouldn’t these decisions be left to those who will have to live with them?” There is a disease called Spina Bifida which affects between six thousand and eleven thousand newborns in the United States each year. The children are alive but require urgent surgery to prevent their handicap to intensify and bring about death. Paralysis, bladder and bowel incontinence, hydrocephalus or water on the brain are all part of the child’s future. Severe mental retardation, requiring total custodial care, is the likely fate of 10% of the 15% of the children. Some 10% of the children will die prior to reaching the first grade, in spite of aggressive medical care. These infants, incapable of making their own decisions, deserve to be spared the pain and suffering of such severe diseases and illnesses.
Although some claim that euthanasia is the killing of a human, infant euthanasia should be legalized to spare severely ill babies of drawn-out, excruciating deaths, and to spare them of the possible defects from their illnesses. Infants continue to be born with such disabling illnesses daily. Many parents are left burdened throughout their lifetimes. They may not be prepared to provide the round-the-clock treatment that is needed. New York State should bring about peace by legalizing euthanasia, and end the suffering for all people intimately involved in situations described previously.