I have long argued that our neurotic obsession with eliminating suffering–we should, of course alleviate and mitigate it–leads very quickly to eliminating the sufferer.
Many mainstream bioethicists push this meme as part of their attempt to convince society to permit infanticide for the same reasons that we allow late stage abortion. Always, these efforts are couched in eliminating suffering and killing based on quality of life–the approach of pro -euthanasia Canadian bioethicist Udu Schuklenk. From, “What We Should Do About Severely Impaired Newborns?”
My [debate] opponent also argued that we should ask ourselves whether we would want to live in a society that terminated the lives of such vulnerable newborns. That’s a good question to ask as it forces us to think more carefully about the values that are at stake in such situations.
If we merely go by the newborn’s quality of life and life prospects it seems indeed best to end the unfolding tragedy sooner rather than later, but probably a decision should be arrived at with parental consent as opposed to against the unfortunate parents. It turns out that one can reasonably answer the rhetorical question of whether one would want to live in a society that terminated the lives of certain severely impaired newborns if one held the view – as I do – that the newborn’s current and future quality of life is all that matters here. I could live in such a society where empathy for human suffering trumps religious conviction.
Don’t be fooled by the “parental consent” nonsense. First, parents shouldn’t have the power to have their babies killed. Beyond that, if we owe a duty to the baby to kill him, then parental rights become irrelevant and it’s veto time. Relevantly, back in the late 1990s, The Lancet reported that 27% of infanticides in the Netherlands–all based on a supposedly “unlivable life” occurs without parental consent.
If the parents’ reason for wanting to love their baby as long as he lives can be viewed as religious–strongly hinted by Schuklenk as the only reason anyone could oppose, it’s really veto time!
Add in the issue of medical costs, and if we live in a society based on “quality of life” instead of equality/sanctity of life, and–yes, you guessed it–veto time!
Schuklenk pushes the QoL poison:
This view, in turn, requires us to rethink how we go about doing medicine, at least to some extent. It would require us to give up on what is called the sanctity-of-life doctrine in medicine and replace it with a quality-of-life ethic.
There is no point in maintaining human life for the sake of it if that human life cannot enjoy a moment of its existence and is trapped in a never-ending cycle of immense pain and suffering. A quality-of-life ethics would not merely ask ‘do you exist’, but ‘do you have a life worth living?’, or ‘will you have a life worth living?’ We are not there yet, but significant changes in this direction are occurring in many countries.
But that’s in the eye of the person or bioethics committee granted the power to decide, isn’t it? And it ignores many, ”severely disabled” from birth, who are so happy to be alive. I’ve met them.
What makes this debate so frustrating is that we’ve been there before with catastrophic results: German doctors killing disabled babies as a “healing treatment.”
This wasn’t Nazis, it was doctors imposing the quality of life ethic.
After the Nuremberg medical trials, Dr. Leo Alexander wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine, explaining how German medicine so easily embraced evil:
Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.
This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the nonrehabilitable sick…
What is that wise saying about those who refuse to learn the lessons of history? Unfortunately, showing the flow of the currents, I don’t think the NEJM would publish Alexander today.
But to answer Schuklenk’s title question: We should love them. We should care for them. We should alleviate their suffering. We should value them.
We definitely should not kill them.