Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

and the caring professions advance

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 12, 2006

The Guardian (UK) reports on a worrisome submission made by a committee of the C of E regarding the cessation of treatment for disabled neonates. The story should be handled somewhat tentatively, since it's unclear what precisely was recommended. It sure reads like another step down the slope:

Church of England leaders want doctors to be given the right to withhold treatment from seriously disabled newborn babies in exceptional circumstances. The move is expected to spark massive controversy.

The church leaders' call for some children to be allowed to die -- overriding the presumption that life should be preserved at any cost -- comes in response to an independent inquiry, which is to be published this week, into the ethics of resuscitating and treating extremely premature babies.

The decision by religious leaders to accept that in some rare cases it may be better to end life than to artificially prolong it is a landmark for the church. The Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark and vice chair of public affairs of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, states in the church's submission to the inquiry, that 'it may in some circumstances be right to choose to withhold or withdraw treatment, knowing it will possibly, probably, or even certainly result in death'. ...

From this article, it's not clear whether "withholding" or "withdrawing" treatment is limited to treatments Catholic moral theologians term "extraordinary means of support" or whether it includes food and water. Given that "the right to withhold treatment" is a right the C of E wants doctors to be given, it's presumably one they don't have already, and that makes me suspicious about the new liberty. The paragraph below doesn't resolve the question, but it's not reassuring:

Their statement comes the week after one of Britain's royal medical colleges called for a public discussion over whether to permit the euthanasia of the sickest babies. The proposal from Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was welcomed by geneticists and medical ethicists, but described it as social engineering by others.

Euthanasia means killing, not simply letting die. The term is not used in those portions of the submission quoted, but the article clearly frames the story so that a connection between the two proposals can be inferred. The use of the terms "proportionate" versus "disproportionate" in the discussion following seems dangerously subjective:

In its submission, the Church of England said that although it could not accept the argument that the life of any baby was not worth living, there are 'strong proportionate reasons' for 'overriding the presupposition that life should be maintained'. 'There may be occasions where, for a Christian, compassion will override the "rule" that life should inevitably be preserved,' wrote Butler. 'Disproportionate treatment for the sake of prolonging life is an example of this.'

The church states that it would support the withdrawal of treatment only if all reasonable alternatives had been fully considered 'so that the possibly lethal act would only be performed with manifest reluctance'.

The last sentence baffles me. What does "reluctance" have to do with the objective morality of the act? Can a doctor wring my child's neck, provided he wrings his hands first?

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