Ethics – Sanctity of Life

An excerpt from Practical Ethics by Peter Singer:

If we base the right to life on characteristics such as capacity for self-awareness, ability to plan for the future and have meaningful relations with others; we must grant some animals a right to life as good as, or better than retarded or senile humans. 

One may conversely say that severely retarded and hopelessly senile have no right to life and may be killed for quite trivial reasons, as we now kill animals.

Having recently watched Children of Darkness (1983) and When a Mother’s Love is Not Enough (2009), I have a few questions:

  1. Should parents be allowed to euthanise their severely disabled child?  Most severely disabled children suffer extensive and endless physical pain, and never have the mental capacity to comprehend what they’re going through. Furthermore, families bear huge medical costs, and suffer emotionally, mentally and physically. Euthanasia will relieve both the child and his/her family.
  2. What is life/living?  In my opinion, life is little worth living without the ability to think. Yet, what level of mental capacity is sufficient to make living worthwhile? Who is to set the bar?
  3. Is the slippery slope argument a strong one? Many have argued against euthanasia as the criterion may become increasingly lax, allowing parents to end the lives of less severely disabled children. As the line between mercy killing and killing blurs, it becomes problematic to govern society. In this regard, I wish to differ as I believe that a system of checks and balances can be set up to ensure that the strictest criterion has been met before grant of application. In Netherlands, the Groningen Protocol sets out directives with criteria under which doctors can perform child euthanasia without fear of legal prosecution. The termination of a child’s life (under age 12) is acceptable if 4 requirements were properly fulfilled: (a) presence of hopeless and unbearable suffering (b) consent of the parents (c) medical consultation  had taken place (d) careful execution of termination.
  4. Should child euthanasia be limited to children under 12 years of age? Many adults, by reason of illness or accident, suffer to be like children again and return to the care of their parents. Without formerly expressing their will for withdrawal of life support under such circumstances, most continue the rest of their lives in palliative care. To these adults, what is living? or rather, what was living? To their parents, is there a solution?
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