Amid the worldwide controversy over terminally ill British baby Charlie Gard, a professor has argued that lethal injections for severely deformed and otherwise "doomed" newborn babies should be allowed.
"If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?" University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne asked in his blog post earlier this month. "I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral. After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments (and if there’s severe mental disability, would never develop such faculties)."
Coyne — with the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago — noted that while parents and doctors are allowed to turn off respirators for newborns with severe medical issues, he said he agrees with philosopher Peter Singer that ending such lives through injections should be allowed as well.
The professor also placed the plight of sick "dogs and cats" on the same level as sick human beings, adding that "we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns ... because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion — in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul."
It’s time to add to the discussion the euthanasia of newborns, who have no ability or faculties to decide whether to end their lives. Although discussing the topic seems verboten now, I believe some day the practice will be widespread, and it will be for the better. After all, we euthanize our dogs and cats when to prolong their lives would be torture, so why not extend that to humans? Dogs and cats, like newborns, can’t make such a decision, and so their caregivers take the responsibility. (I have done this myself to a pet, as have many of you, and firmly believe it’s the right thing to do. Our pain at making such a decision is lessened knowing that dogs and cats, like newborns, don’t know about death and thus don’t fear it.)
The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion — in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul. It’s the same mindset that, in many places, won’t allow abortion of fetuses that have severe deformities. When religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.
In addition, Coyne pointed to a New York Times op-ed titled, "You should not have let your baby die" — noting that the author actually means “you should have killed your baby" — about a baby born with trisomy 18.
"Trisomy 21, three copies of the smaller 21st chromosome, is what produces Down syndrome," Coyne noted. "But unlike the Down case, trisomy 18, involving imbalance of a larger chromosome, produces a severe condition, with most children dying horrible deaths soon after birth. A few, though, can live into their 20s and 30s."
Coyne then acknowledged the dilemma, asking, "Should you take that chance?"
In his blog post, Coyne pasted the final seven paragraphs of the Times op-ed — which detailed the child's last moments as parents decided to turn of his respirator — in order to make "the case for euthanasia of a newborn like this," as the "child slowly suffocates."
Here are those paragraphs via the Times op-ed:
The nurse comes in, mute. You look at him, sleeping. He seems at peace. You nod your head. She gently pulls the tube. It slides out quickly, as though he were helping to expel it. Without his lifeline, he does not move. A minute later, his eyes open. It is the first time you have seen them. His head jerks slightly forward. He does not cry. He gasps silently for breath. His eyes close. You almost yell for the nurse, to beg her to put it back in. To keep from doing so, you pray, arguing with God that letting him die is best for him. After five minutes, his face pales, then turns a sickly purple. His tiny chest convulses irregularly in an unsuccessful attempt to draw air into the lungs. After 20 minutes, he lies still. His fingers turn gray.
Thirty minutes. There are no visible signs of life. You rock his limp body as tears fall on the blue blanket. You wonder what sort of beast you are. Forty-five minutes. Grandma looks in, ashen faced, seeing in a glance that it is over. Shortly your wife appears. She immediately takes her son’s body in her arms and coddles him. She sits there with him for three hours.
You should not have let your baby die. You should have killed him.
This thought occurs to you years later, thinking about the gruesome struggle of his last 20 minutes. You are not sure whether it makes sense to talk about his life, because he never seemed to have the things that make a life: thoughts, wants, desires, interests, memories, a future. But supposing that he had thoughts, his strongest thought during those last minutes certainly appeared to be: “This hurts. Can’t someone help it stop?” He didn’t know your name, but if he had, he would have said: “Daddy? Please. Now.”
It seems the medical community has few options to offer parents of newborns likely to die. We can leave our babies on respirators and hope for the best. Or remove the hose and watch the child die a tortured death. Shouldn’t we have another choice? Shouldn’t we be allowed the swift humane option afforded the owners of dogs, a lethal dose of a painkiller?
For years you repress the thought. Then, early one morning, remembering again those last minutes, you realize that the repugnant has become reasonable. The unthinkable has become the right, the good. Painlessly. Quickly. With the assistance of a trained physician.
You should have killed your baby.
One commenter pushed back against Coyne's argument.
"Religion aside, the truth is that each child conceived and born is a reaffirmation of life, of the goodness of life. Each child — a gift of inestimable value. Even an imperfect, pain-ridden, pathetically shortened human life is yet a triumph over nothingness, a triumph of an heroic will to live," the commenter wrote. "Each of these more easily wounded children have defied immense odds just to be alive and to stay alive. Each one is a hero."
As you might expect, that didn't go over well with others.
"Really? What a rosy, romantic idea," another commenter countered. "Tell that to the parents of a child born without half of its brain. Tell that to the parents of a child born with inoperable heart damage. Tell that to me when your child is born without a chance of developing intellectual capabilities. 'A triumph over nothingness' means absolutely nothing if your entire life is a misery or an empty potential without any realization of cognition."
(H/T: The College Fix)