Aiding the death of infants is a much disputed controversy in healthcare. H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr. provides an ethical view that there is a moral duty not to treat an impaired infant when this will only prolong a painful life or would only lead to a painful death. It is these individuals, like Engelhardt, who must defend this position against groups who consider that we have the ability to prolong the lives of impaired infants, thus we are obligated to do so.
Infanticide is associated with aiding the death of an infant and infant euthanasia. Jim Holt, contributing author for the New York Times, writes that, “Infanticide is the deliberate killing of newborns with the consent of the parents and society. This concept has been common throughout most of history. In some cultures it served as a form of birth control when food supplies were limited. In others, it was a way of getting rid of malformed offspring. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all condemned infanticide as murder holding that only God has the right to take innocent human life. Consequently, the practice has long been outlawed in every Western nation.” (Euthanasia).
The case study from “Mercy Killing in the Newborn Nursery,” Sara T. Fry and Robert M. Veatch provide an example of a situation where the duty not to treat is evident:
…The infant had been born with anencephaly, or lack of cranial development. The infant’s skull was an open sore that the nurses packed and layered with gauze to give his face a round appearance. Because of lack of cerebral hemispheres, the infant was incapable of any conscious activity. After his birth, the infant was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit and placed in a bassinet. He was reported to be kicking and breathing, and his heart was beating. The hospital issued him a live birth certificate… (182)
This case is not unlike many of the births every year in the United States. Approximately 1 in 68,000 births result in anencephaly annually. About 25% of anencephalic babies die at birth; those who survive have a life expectancy of a few hours or days (Jaquier 2006).
There are methods in the justification of aiding in the death of an impaired infant. Engelhardt outlines that there is a distinction between aiding the death of adult and children. The question of status is also explored to determine that children are neither self-possessed nor responsible. The concept of Injury of Continued Existence is given to look at the potential person the infant might become if allowed to exist. These examples are provided to give a thorough evaluation of a child before the decision is made whether or not to prolong life.
Is there a difference when evaluating the life of a child versus an adult when considering aiding in their death? Engelhardt determines that yes, there is a distinction. He convincingly notes that “the difference lies in the somewhat obvious fact that infants and young children are not able to decide about their own futures and this are...