Human Exceptionalism

Media Confusion About Proposed Baby Euthanasia in the UK

The Sunday Times has a story about the Church of England supposedly endorsing infant euthanasia in the wake of the proposal to permit infanticide of severely disabled babies. As you can imagine, that caught my eye! But upon reading the story, it appears that the Church has ratified the right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment in some circumstances, which is a different matter altogether.

Thankfully, the Christian Medical Fellowship, part of the diverse coalition known as Care Not Killing that helped prevent the legalization of assisted suicide in the UK this year, was not confused. Dr. Peter Saunders, who I have met and who knows these issues cold, made the right point in The Guardian: “If it’s an underlying condition that’s causing the death and you’re withholding the treatment because you believe that that treatment’s burden far outweighs any benefit it can bring, then it might be quite appropriate.”

Withholding life-sustaining treatment is not the same thing at all as active killing, a distinction that The Economist editorial writers understood when it unfortunately endorsed infanticide as a respectable issue worthy of being debated: “Withholding or withdrawing treatment is already legal in some situations–if the child will remain severely impaired, or is brain-dead or suffering unbearable pain, for example. Active euthanasia would allow doctors to go further by, for instance, using morphine to hasten the end of a brief, pain-filled life, if the parents agreed.”

The Times needs to do better. As we have seen so many times in the embryonic stem cell/cloning controversy, it is crucial for the media to keep the terms and definitions straight when discussing ethically contentious issues. Proper moral analysis requires people to draw crucial distinctions. This cannot possibly be done without accurate and clear information, the providing of which is part of the essential role media play in democratic societies.

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