By: Torrey Moorman, Student
The past ten years have seen phenomenal changes in prenatal care and neonatal intensive care capabilities. These changes have saved lives that, in the past, would never have come to fruition. This means we have also seen a multitude of miracle baby stories from around the world.
There are families that are enjoying children’s birthdays would not have been possible 15 or 20 years ago. While these stories are inspiring and heartwarming they leave out the rest of the story. Just because we can save a child, does that mean we should?
This question has been the subject many of debates and with good reason. We perceive our children as being our future. Most parents would sacrifice themselves rather than see their children suffer.
Medical professionals are trained to save and protect lives at all cost. The idea of allowing anyone to die has been viewed as aberrant. Allowing an infant to die is considered absolutely unethical.
At what point are parents and medical professionals supposed to decide that any life is better than no life, or conversely that quality of life is more important than quantity of life? This can be by addressing the issue on a case by case basis, and to do that, the idea that some lives were not meant to be saved must be accepted.
The inherent difficulty is that human beings cannot discuss this in a non-emotional manner. Birth is an emotional experience while death, especially euthanasia, is an emotionally charged subject. The two items together are explosive.
Most people agree that infants are capable of feeling pain, and that infants should be treated in such a way as to minimize their suffering. After those two arguments have been conceded, however, the proverbial can of worms is opened.
The concept that an infant must be subjected to intensive care is the definition of saving an infant’s life at all cost. This idea, that no matter the cost – emotional, financial, and unbearable suffering – the infant should be saved fuels the debate against neonatal euthanasia.
Why must the infant be subjected to intensive care, simply because the possibility of life has crested the 50 percent mark? Have the improvements in neonatal medicine decreased the severity of disabilities and suffering at the same rate it has increased the likelihood of children surviving extreme prematurity? And what of the infants born with debilitating, painful diseases?
If we accept the supposition that all lives are equally valuable, then with today’s miracles of artificial hearts, lungs, naso-esophageal feeding tubes and ventilators, there is no reason to let anyone die. We can artificially force everyone to stay alive.
Yet no one has made this argument. If we are not going to artificially keep everyone alive, but we subject a newborn to intensive care, we are either saying a newborn’s life has more value than any other life, or that because the infant is unable to verbalize pain, that pain has less value.
Either argument leads down a slippery slope.
If an infant’s life is more valuable, what is to prevent society from hospitalizing a mother and forcing her to live in the healthiest way possible during pregnancy?
If the infant’s inability to communicate pain decreases the value of the infant’s pain, why waste money on adequate care?
We should acknowledge that there are instances when life support puts an intolerable burden on the baby. The kindest thing we can do for infants in this category is active involuntary euthanasia. Enable these tiny individuals to close their eyes in peace, while being held by loving parents.
Would it be so horrible for a physician to provide a dose of painkiller that would erase all of that child’s suffering? Or would it be more ethical to leave that infant to suffer?
I believe that involuntary active euthanasia should be available for the select few cases where life is an intolerable burden and there are no other adequate solutions for the infant’s unbearable suffering.