Thirty three years ago on November 5th 1973, I was born in Frimley Park Hospital. It was immediately obvious that I was disabled and my mother was advised on more than one occasion to leave me at the hospital and forget about me. As is very common, doctors told my mother a series of negative predictions about my future. Apparently, I would be blind, deaf, have epilepsy, never be able to talk or communicate. They even used the classic ‘he’ll be a cabbage’ line.
So why am I telling you all this? Last Sunday was my thirty third birthday and flicking through the papers I was horrified but unfortunately not that surprised to read that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology is calling on the health profession to consider permitting the euthanasia of seriously disabled newborn babies. Apparently the college is arguing that “active euthanasia” should be considered for the overall good of families, to spare parents the emotional burden and financial hardship of bringing up the sickest babies.“A very disabled child can mean a disabled family,” the report says.
One contributor to the Sunday Times article, John Harris, a member of the government’s Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University argued “We can terminate for serious foetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn. What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it okay to kill the foetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?” The saying ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ springs to mind. There seems to be very little appreciation amongst the medical profession that people with impairments can enjoy a good quality of life and contribute to the richness of the society in which we live.
The Nuffield Council of Bioethics are publishing their report ‘Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: ethical issues’ on the 16th November and it will be interesting to see whether the opinions of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology are echoed in the report. Unfortunately I am unable to attend the launch of the report however as always I’ll keep you posted through the blog.
In 1973, I had a chance to prove the doctors wrong. In 2006, disabled babies may no longer be given that chance.