A British think tank with close ties to the Government, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, is studying whether premature babies born around 24 weeks should be left to die. The idea is being supported by the grand dame of British bioethics, Baroness Mary Warnock. She contends that nearly all of these babies will be handicapped in some way and that they are kept alive merely to vindicate the prowess of resuscitation teams.
“The question is why do we do it?” she asks. “Because it is very satisfying to doctors? Because parents want to pull out all the stops or because doctors fear someone will accuse them of negligence and not having a very good reason not to resuscitate? None of these are very good reasons.” According to the London Telegraph, her remarks were supported in principle by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Baroness Warnock, a utilitarian bioethicist who is the architect of Britain’s fertility laws, is also a supporter of euthanasia. Not long ago, she suggested that that the elderly should request death rather than linger on as a burden on their families. A ban on infant resuscitation would bring the UK in line with the Netherlands, where doctors routinely do not administer intensive care to babies born before 25 weeks of pregnancy.
Statistics support the contention that babies born before 25 weeks are often handicapped — the issue is how badly. A major study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year found that 20% of surviving babies had no handicap at all. Neil Marlow, of University of Nottingham, a joint author, commented that “the majority of children do not have a serious physical disability, i.e. do not have cerebral palsy, blindness or deafness and despite the high incidence of learning difficulties, half are doing reasonably well and keeping up with their classmates.”
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