Cloaking Infanticide With Medical Respectability

Reprehensible Practices

Washington, D.C., (Zenit.org) Denise Hunnell, MD | 5560 hits

During a testy exchange with a Weekly Standard reporter, United States Representative Nancy Pelosi, a self-professed "devout Catholic," called the discussion of late-term abortions "sacred ground." In the same conversation, she used the word "reprehensible" to describe the activities of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist convicted of murder after snipping the spines of infants who survived late-term abortions. 

One is left to wonder exactly what Ms. Pelosi finds reprehensible. 

She is clearly not concerned about the deaths of children as evidenced by her unwavering support of a mother's choice to kill her child at all stages of pregnancy. It's obvious she isn't concerned about the suffering of infants since she opposes any restrictions on abortion after an unborn child can feel pain. And she does not seem to find the deaths of women seeking late-term abortions reprehensible since she offered support to Wendy Davis who filibustered Texas legislation requiring abortion clinics to meet the health and safety standards of other outpatient medical facilities. 

Ms. Pelosi also counts Dr. Leroy Carhart as one of her staunchest allies. Dr. Carhart is a notorious late-term abortionist who has no problems killing unborn children right up to their due dates. As recently as February 2013, one of his patients died from complications after he performed an abortion at 33 weeks. 

Since it is not the suffering and deaths of infants nor the lack of safeguards for the health and safety of women that Representative Pelosi finds reprehensible, it seems the only distinguishing factor of Dr. Gosnell's practice to which she can object is the filthy, unsanitary environment. She is comfortable with women and children dying in a posh Maryland suburban clinic, but finds it reprehensible only when stripped of its sterile medical façade, and occurring in a vermin infested inner city office.

The Netherlands and Belgium apply similar mental gymnastics to cloak the horror of infanticide in medical terminology and procedures to allow the steady advance of infant and child euthanasia. Belgium is poised to become the first Western nation to legally allow minor children to undergo voluntary euthanasia. These children – who are not considered mature enough to drink alcohol, vote, drive, or marry – will be allowed to request their lives be ended by medical personnel. The fact that death will be brought to these young people by white-coated professionals bearing a sterile syringe of poison makes the procedure palatable to the Belgian legislature. The move is strongly opposed by the Belgian Catholic hierarchy and clergy, but this does not seem to be enough to sway politicians from their deadly path. 

Both Belgium and the Netherlands routinely allow euthanasia for pre-term infants with a poor prognosis, as well as for infants born with severe disabilities. These infants are at least as developed as those killed by Kermit Gosnell. The Netherlands pioneered this practice with the development of the Groningen Protocols in 2005. Now the Dutch are seeking to broaden the justification for euthanizing a child to include the distress of parents who must witness their child's infirmities. According to a report issued by the Royal Dutch Medical Association, it is now acceptable medical practice to kill a child in order to relieve the suffering of his parents.

The implications of this rationale are horrifying. Since the establishment of the Groningen Protocols there has been a strong effort to expand their application to all mentally incapacitated patients, including those with severe learning disabilities and the demented elderly. 

There is no doubt that the expansion of criteria for euthanasia to include the suffering of others will open the door to kill the disabled and the demented when a spouse or a child claims to no longer be able to bear the sight of a loved one's suffering. The question then becomes who has standing to claim that a patient's suffering is so distressing that the patient must be killed. No one enjoys seeing another in pain, but is the solution really to eliminate the patient instead of eliminating the pain?

A New York Times editorial illustrates how proponents of infant and child euthanasia confuse the issue by claiming that the intentional killing of a sick child is the moral equivalent of withholding care deemed extraordinary:

An anencephalic baby, while biologically human, will never develop a rudimentary consciousness, let alone an ability to relate to others or a sense of the future. Yet according to the sanctity-of-life doctrine, those deficiencies do not affect its moral status and hence its right to life. Anencephalic babies could be kept alive for years, given the necessary life support. Yet treatment is typically withheld from them on the grounds that it amounts to ''extraordinary means'' -- even though a baby with a normal brain in need of similar treatment would not be so deprived. Thus they are allowed to die.

What this New York Times writer and other proponents of euthanasia do not appreciate is that there is a significant difference between passing judgment on treatment and passing judgment on a patient. In the hypothetical case cited above, it is morally acceptable to withhold interventions that are deemed too burdensome when compared to their low probability of benefit. The treatment, not the life of the patient, is being judged as onerous and of little value. This is different from determining that a patient is too burdensome and should be killed. While the child will die in either case, she dies of her underlying disease in the first scenario and is murdered in the latter.

It is logically inconsistent to decry Dr. Kermit Gosnell one minute and embrace Dr. Leroy Carhart the next. Similarly, infant euthanasia carried out by a licensed medical practitioner in a bright well-scrubbed hospital nursery cannot be morally distinguished from snipping a newborn's spinal cord in a dark grimy office in Philadelphia. Every human life has intrinsic human dignity and value from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Infanticide is always morally reprehensible and cannot be redeemed by a thin veneer of medical respectability. 

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Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of Human Life International, an international pro-life organization. She writes for HLI's Truth and Charity Forum.