[Today’s guest post by Clinton Wilcox is part of our paid blogging program.]
I do not intend this article to examine the morality of euthanasia. Instead, this article has been inspired by a recent event in England in which Charlotte Fitzmaurice fought in court for the right to kill her severely disabled child, Nancy — and won. To be sure, the situation was very difficult. Nancy was born with several debilitating ailments and had a quality of life much lower than the average human being. But the part I specifically want to focus on is that arguments for euthanasia often mirror arguments for abortion.
One glaring example is that in the article linked above, Charlotte said “my daughter is no longer my daughter, she is now merely just a shell.” She goes on to say, “The light from her eyes is now gone and is replaced with fear and a longing to be at peace.” This second statement contradicts her first. If she is just a shell (in other words, a body with no soul, or no “animating factor”), then she wouldn’t have longing or fear in her eyes. A corpse cannot feel pain, nor could it communicate (verbally or non-verbally) if it did have physical pain or discomfort. So her child was not merely a shell. She is dehumanizing her child based on “the light” (whatever she means by that) being gone.
Another example of obfuscating the moral issue is when a parent of a severely disabled child (or adult, or elderly person) claims they are putting the person to death for them, but are really putting the other person to death because they are too much of a burden (sometimes it’s even explicitly stated that the person in question will be too much of a burden). In this specific case, Charlotte was very distressed (and rightly so) by her child’s situation. I don’t doubt that in this specific case, she did what she believed was best for her child, although her claim that she desired her child to be free from pain is undermined by the painful way Nancy died. When we kill a death row inmate, we don’t starve them. We give them a lethal injection. However, in many circumstances when a child has a severe deformity, they are allowed to be put to death. I am reminded of one such case in the United States in 1984, in which a baby (nicknamed Baby Doe by the media) was born with Down syndrome and tracheoesophageal fistula, and the obstetrician recommended the family not pursue treatment, since there was only a 50% chance of the baby surviving the surgical repair, and the prospects of the child were bleak if he did survive surgery. The family decided not to pursue treatment, but their family doctor opposed this plan and took them to court to try and save the child. The court ruled in favor of the family and the child died of starvation. This decision was such a breach of ethics that it caused the United States to pass the Baby Doe Law, in which they proclaimed that assessments of a baby’s quality of life are not valid reasons to withhold basic care (e.g. food and water).
The problem with reasoning like this is once you start down the path of determining in which situation one should be allowed to die, even against one’s expressly stated wishes, there is no end to where it could end up. Once you open that door, it’s a small step to finding other, less severe disabilities that you deem not worth living, euthanizing people who have those disabilities against their wishes.
The parallel here should be pretty obvious. Killing a child outside the womb for reasons of severe deformity is no different than killing a child inside the womb for that same deformity. But now, even though the child is outside the womb and is uncontroversially considered a person, they are still allowed to be killed for reasons of deformity. This indicates that society has deemed persons with that deformity as not true persons, because one can be killed simply for having that deformity. And if an unborn child has a deformity that they are killed for (e.g. Down syndrome), then what we are really saying is that it is better to be killed than to have to go throughout life with certain disabilities, even Down syndrome, which is not seen as a debilitating disability, and people with Down syndrome grow up to lead productive lives and are some of the happiest and kindest people you’ll ever meet. But society has deemed their lives not worth living because they allow us to kill them while still in the womb.