News stories about the Nuffield Council report on Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: ethical issues mentioned earlier are beginning to come in. The Nuffield website has not yet published the report itself but has issued this press release: Independent ethics body proposes week-by-week guidelines on treating premature babies.
Joint comment by Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, and Most Rev Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff, on behalf of the Church of England House of Bishops and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales on the publication of the Nuffield Council’s report Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: Ethical issues:
We warmly welcome the clear recommendation from the Nuffield Council today that “the active ending of life of newborn babies should not be allowed, no matter how serious their condition.” This reaffirms the validity of existing law prohibiting euthanasia, and upholds the vital and fundamental moral principle that the deliberate taking of innocent human life is always gravely wrong.
There is a clear distinction between interventions which are deliberately aimed at killing, and decisions to withhold or withdraw medical treatment when it is judged to be futile or unduly burdensome. In our joint submission in 2004 to the Select Committee of the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill the Church of England House of Bishops and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said:
“Doctors do not have an overriding obligation to prolong life by all available means. Treatment for a dying patient should be ‘proportionate’ to the therapeutic effect to be expected, and should not be disproportionately painful, intrusive, risky, or costly, in the circumstances. Treatment may therefore be withheld or withdrawn, though such decisions should be guided by the principle that a pattern of care should never be adopted with the intention, purpose or aim of terminating the life or bringing about the death of a patient. Death, if it ensues, will have resulted from the underlying condition which required medical intervention, not as a direct consequence of the decision to withhold or withdraw treatment. ” (para 18)
In applying this principle we believe that every case should be judged on its merits and like the British Medical Association, we would have concerns about any blanket recommendation regarding the treatment of babies born before 22 weeks. Decisions regarding treatment should always be made on an individual basis having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
We will wish to study the detail of the Nuffield Council’s report but welcome the extremely important recommendation opposing any action aimed at the active ending of life of newborn babies.
British Medical Association has issued this press release.
Some press reports:
Reuters Pre-22-week babies “should not have intensive care”
Guardian Extremely premature babies should be left to die, says report
BBC ‘Do not revive’ earliest babies
Telegraph Ethics experts set out controversial guidelines for doctors and parents
The Times When to let a baby die: experts set the guidelines