Church of England Defends Disabled Babies Submission

The Church of England has defended a statement by the Bishop of Southwark in which he said that the withdrawal of treatment for extremely premature or disabled newborns may sometimes be justified.

Published 15 November 2006
The Church of England has stood by a recent submission by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics consultation on the treatment of extremely disabled or premature newborns and foetuses.

Bishop Butler has come under intense media fire for his submission to the Nuffield inquiry on 'The ethics of prolonging life in foetuses and the newborn', with some newspapers reporting that he defended baby euthanasia.

In his submission, Bishop Butler said that in some cases it may be justified to withdraw treatment from newborns.

"The foetus and neonate are unique individuals under God. We cannot therefore accept as a justification for killing them the argument that their lives are not worth living.

"This is not incompatible with accepting that it may in some circumstances be right to choose to withhold or withdraw treatment, knowing that it will possibly, probably or even certainly result in death," said Bishop Butler, who is also the vice chair of public affairs of the Mission and Public Affairs Council.

Bishop Butler went on to say that, in making that decision, there would have to be "very strong proportionate reasons for overriding the presupposition that life should be maintained" and that "all reasonable alternatives would have to be fully considered so that the possibly lethal act would only be performed with manifest reluctance".

The Church of England defended the submission yesterday, saying that it "doesn't change long-standing church policy" on the withdrawal of treatment in certain circumstances. "That is not euthanasia," it added.

A spokesman for the Church of England also told Christian Today that the submission had been "erroneously interpreted" and "completely misreported" by the media.

"The Church of England's submission to the Nuffield Inquiry is entirely in keeping with the Church's policy on treatment at the beginning and end of life," said the spokesman.

"The submission stated that fetuses and newborns should only have treatment withheld or withdrawn if treatment is futile."

He added: "We believe firmly that every life is valued and loved by God equally."

The Christian Medical Fellowship has also defended Bishop Butler's submission, saying that two of the UK's biggest newspapers had "confused the issue and wrongly implied that the Church of England supported euthanasia".

"Let's be quite clear about this. The Church of England has not changed its position on euthanasia. It has always been opposed to euthanasia and still is," said CMF General Secretary Dr Peter Saunders.

"The media hype surrounding the church's stance on this issue simply results from some broad sheet journalists failing to understand the clear distinction between euthanasia, which is the deliberate ending of someone's life, and the withdrawal of ineffective and burdensome treatment from a dying baby."

He continued: "If it's an underlying condition that's causing the death and you're withholding the treatment because you believe that that treatment's ineffective, then to do so is both legally and morally permissible.

"There's a point in medicine where we have to say that enough is enough, and sometimes the treatment can be worse than the disease. But that's a far cry from taking action intentionally to bring about a patient's death - which is what euthanasia means".

"End-of-life decisions shouldn't be confused with ending-life decisions", said Dr Saunders.

Reprints

More News in Society

  • MPs criticise UK's immigration 'mess'

    Britain's border and immigration system is a "mess", MPs said today in a report which will increase pressure on David Cameron's government to take a tougher line on migrants ahead of next year's General Election.