Udo Schuklenk, a bioethics professor at Queen’s University in Ontario, hearts infanticide. I love how all these bioethics professors don’t seen to have any.
The open question in the debate was, Schuklenk writes:
“Would it make much sense to undertake significant surgery with the – unlikely but possible – result that the newborn might live a miserable life for another year or two before his impairment eventually catches up with him and kills him? Should we withdraw nutrition and hydration while providing palliative care so that he doesn’t suffer? Should we actively terminate his life to end his nightmare quickly and painlessly, as well as that of his parents? In our scenario the parents asked that their son’s life be ended quickly and painlessly.”
Schuklenk doesn’t raise any objections to these scenarios. In fact, he seems wildly in favor of euthanasia.
He wrote about a recent debate he had with a theologian on the issue of infanticide:
My 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.
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.
To listen to so many bioethics professors support euthanasia you’d think we lived in some stone age were palliative care was just a distant dream. Advances in pain management have been astounding in recent years but we’re still always presented choices of only “never-ending cycles of immense pain and suffering” and sweet death.
Schuklenk also dismisses many arguments from a religious perspective too cavalierly. When the theologian he debated argued that people shouldn’t kill disabled babies but let nature take its course, Shuklenk calls this a “non-starter” simply because medicine itself is created to battle nature taking its course so therefore all talk of nature taking its course must be ignored. That argument would allow for no limits at all on anything at all simply because we take medicine. But perhaps he is fine with that.
He also dismissed any talk of human dignity rather easily. “It’s a strange thing this ‘human dignity’ rhetoric,” writes Schuklenk. “It has actually no meaning in its own right. For Catholics human dignity means living by Catholic values, to Muslims it means living by Islamic values, to secular folks it could mean living by secular ethical values, and so on and so forth.”
“So,” he concludes,”the long and short of it is, in the discussion about the severely impaired newborn, human dignity gives us neither action guidance nor action justification.”
Wow. That was fast. Because at times people struggle with the question about what “human dignity” demands of us then it has no bearing on any debate? You might think that a debate would be a perfect forum for such a question. But to Schuklenk, the lack of an easy and ready answer means the question itself is out of bounds completely.