Can killing, taking a human life, ever be a mercy for the victim?

This is one concept where, try as we might, logic flies out the window and emotions take over. After all, we are talking about the top of the pyramid – life; the big kahuna. Everything else pales in comparison. In some circumstances, of course, the answer is a straightforward and abhorrent no. Examples are Hitler’s experiments to create a master race; and the on-going practice in North Korea, where “unsuitable” infants are murdered with state sanction. But what happens when the circumstances are not that straightforward. The debate about euthanasia – putting to sleep terminally ill patients – has been raging for decades; and probably will never reach a definitive conclusion. However, among many doctors today, there is a growing acceptance of the ideas of euthanasia, suicide and hastening death for the mortally sick. Recently, a doctors’ group in London called for a debate on mercy killing of disabled babies. The medical profession should examine the “active euthanasia” of desperately-ill newborns, said the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology. It wants an inquiry into whether the “deliberate intervention to cause the death of an infant” should be legalized. The college suggests that decisions on when young babies should be killed or allowed to die should not depend solely on the gravity of their condition. It has called for a debate on the ethics of treatment for severely ill and disabled newborns; and raised the question of whether such children should be killed if they are not wanted by their parents. The college said of euthanasia in babies: “If assisted dying legislation is to be anticipated or enacted at the other end of life, now would be a pertinent time to discuss this.” Not surprisingly, the proposal met with a furious response from some quarters, among them, politicians. One said: “This sends the message that only the perfect are acceptable, the disabled can be discarded.” The Disability Rights Commission in the UK said it would vehemently oppose such a move. “It is morally reprehensible to place the value of one life above another,” said a spokesman. John Wyatt, a neonatologist at University College London Hospital, said euthanasia would turn medicine into social engineering, where those considered worthless were doomed to die. The emotion behind the debate has been deepened by a film showing a 12-week-old foetus moving its limbs and ‘walking’ in the womb. Pro-lifers have used this to bolster their contention that even a foetus in its early stages of development is a living being. However, most doctors conclude that a baby born so prematurely; and who survives thanks to modern medicine, is likely to be so disabled that worthwhile life is impossible. Then again, do doctors know everything? Consider the case of Charlotte Wyatt, born three months prematurely, weighing one pound and with severe brain and lung damage. Doctors wanted to switch off her life support machine but her parents fought to keep her alive. Charlotte has confounded medical opinion and is now three years old. However, she is severely disabled and needs constant medical care. Which brings us back to that most fundamental of ethical conundrums: does a human being have the right to take the life of another human being under any circumstances? I am excluding legal executions for the moment, although there is a growing view that even these are ethically and morally indefensible. . In the case of Charlotte Wyatt, some may argue that – yes, technically, she is alive – but is she really “living”. Wouldn’t putting her to sleep peacefully be a merciful

release, both for her and her parents who have to continually suffer her anguish? It sounds so logical. And yet, only the very brave, or very foolish, would hasten to pass judgment. God has given us humans free will and the ability to decide for ourselves how we want to journey through life. However, the one right He jealously guards is deciding the time of our death. Can we take that away from Him – even when it seems the logical and humane thing to do? I don’t have any answers. Does anyone?