Monday, November 13, 2006

#321 - Life By Committee - Revisited

Dredging through Drudge this evening I came across a reference to a highly disturbing article. A Bishop in the Church of England has indicated that children who are severely deformed or disabled at birth should be allowed to die under certain circumstances. At first, this struck me as sounding awfully familiar. But there's a small difference in this case. Holland's Groningen Protocol actually codifies circumstances under which life should be terminated - effectively placing the Dutch government in the role traditionally assigned to God, or courts (as when dealing with convicted murderers). In this case, however, Anglican Bishop Tom Butler of Southwick appears to be arguing for a more traditional approach to this deeply emotional issue. He indicates that
...there are occasions when it is compassionate to leave a severely disabled child to die.
With this particular statement I actually agree. When writing about the Groningen Protocol, I recounted the story of a young couple with whom I was acquainted whose very premature baby was born with multiple deformities, none the least of which was a brain that had developed with no more than a stem. After long consultations with family, doctors, and local church leaders they made the painful decision to not attempt any extraordinary lifesaving procedures; not even a respirator, if memory serves. The baby lived barely a week, during which they snuggled her, named her, blessed her, bonded with her as best they could, and generally enjoyed this small life for as long as God had granted them. It was a very significant experience for me, and I learned much about how we should protect both the lives as well as the spiritual welfare of our children and loved ones. Their family "portrait" probably still hangs on their family picture wall.

Reading further, however, I found this rather chilling statement by the Reverend Bishop:
[The Bishop] has also argued that the high financial cost of keeping desperately ill babies alive should be a factor in life or death decisions.
While I believe I know what prompted this statement, it unfortunately sounds far too Groningen-like for my taste.

Look, unless you're born rich or put off having children until you've made your pile, no one is ever ready for all the burden and responsibilities that go along with raising offspring. Even the rich ones have their challenges laid out for them, unless they prefer to abdicate everything to the care of their nanny. But the parent who, when presented with a desperately sick child, has as their first thought, "How will we pay for all of this?" is one who should have reconsidered becoming a parent in the first place.

Admittedly, I have only ever known a small handful of people who have had to go through these decisions in their own lives. Some, like the couple I mentioned previously, are friends. Others are extended family. A few are merely chance acquaintances. But in every single case when discussing the subject, their first and foremost thought was always, "What would be best for this child?" Thoughts of financial burden or worries about how to rearrange their lives to accomodate such a child are always secondary. For a true parent it has little to do with money or inconvenience, and everything to do with wishing - indeed, hoping against hope - that their precious baby didn't have to suffer so.

So while I think I understand that the Bishop was merely trying to provide some practical guidance in this instance, his concerns for financial considerations in what is already a highly emotionally charged decision for parents make the Anglican Church seem just a little cold-blooded.

It's not Groningen, but it could be.

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