Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Peter Singer: "Treating (or Not) the Tiniest Babies"

Free_inquiry_cover The controversial Peter Singer contributes a not-very-controversial op-ed to the current issue of Free Inquiry (published by the Council for Secular Humanism).  Singer contrasts the attitudes of Australian health care professionals who offer intensive care to premature infants with those of their American counterparts.  A workshop held in Australia addressing this issue revealed that the Australian providers do not feel morally obligated to try to save every infant no matter the chances for survival or the long-term prognosis:

[I]nstead of trying to set a rigid cut-off line, the workshop defined a “gray zone” within which treatment might or might not be given, depending on the wishes of the parents. If the parents of an infant born at twenty-three weeks did not want their baby treated, every participant would accept that request. There was consensus that, although the possibility of active treatment could be discussed, it would be discouraged. Even at twenty-five weeks, 72 percent of the participants would not initiate treatment if the parents did not want it. By twenty-six weeks, however, the consensus was that the infant should be treated, except in unusual circumstances.

In contrast, Singer asserts, in the United States the view is prevalent that no effort must be spared in trying to save a premature infant.  Singer is concerned that in this climate, parents are not adequately informed or engaged in the decision whether to try to save their baby:

Instead of openly discussing the options with parents, some doctors will instead say that treatment is “futile” and “nothing can be done.” In fact, in these cases, active treatment would often prolong life, but there would be a high probability of severe disability. In this situation, to say that treatment is “futile” is to make the ethical judgment that life with such a high level of disability is either not worth living or not worth the effort required by the parents and the community to make it possible for the child to live. Other doctors believe that all human life is of infinite value and that it is their duty to do everything possible to save every baby, irrespective of the likelihood that the baby will be severely disabled. In neither of these situations are parents given the chance to participate in the decision about their child. While that may relieve them of the heavy burden of responsibility, it also denies them the opportunity to say how precious this child is to them and whether or not they could love and welcome into their home a child with a severe disability.

Singer concludes by advocating a stronger role for parents in the decision whether to try to save babies born in the “gray zone,” where survival is uncertain and the risk of serious, permanent disability is high.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/reproductive_rights/2007/05/the_controversi.html

Bioethics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety | Permalink

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