Published: 13th November 2006
The Christian Medical Fellowship has said that it is essential to understand the clear distinction between euthanasia and the appropriate withdrawal of ineffective and burdensome treatment from a dying baby.
CMF General Secretary Dr Peter Saunders said, 'On the one hand, actively and deliberately ending a baby's life is both wrong and illegal. On the other hand, withdrawing or withholding ineffective and burdensome treatment from a dying baby in extreme circumstances is both legal and ethical and can be good medical practice.'
CMF was responding to a report in the Observer and Sunday Times, which had confused the issue and wrongly implied that the Church of England supported euthanasia. 'Let's be quite clear about this', said Dr Saunders. “The Church of England has not changed its position on euthanasia. It has always been opposed to euthanasia and still is. 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.'
'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.
'All human beings are worthy of the utmost respect, empathy, compassionate care and protection from abuse or harm. The mark of a humane society is that it takes special care to look after the most vulnerable. But there are untreatable or lethal clinical conditions for which invasive medical technology cannot bring a cure, and where we must focus instead on providing the best palliative care available to a baby who is terminally ill. In these circumstances, withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment can be the appropriate course of action for a doctor to take, and it is perfectly legal and ethical for him to do so. Instead we should be providing good palliative care – fluids, pain and symptom relief, love and affection.'
'In making these decisions we need to recognise that the outcome for any individual fetus or neonate depends on a wide range of contingencies and uncertainties which cannot be quantified or predicted with any degree of accuracy. If there is any doubt, babies, unborn or newborn, must be given the benefit of that doubt.'
The Nuffield Council releases its report 'Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: ethical issues' on Thursday 16th November.
The Submission from CMF to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Working Party on The Ethics of Prolonging Life in Fetuses and the Newborn can be found at
Disabled and critically ill fetuses and premature babies must get the best possible treatment say CMF and LCF (15/11/06)
Nuffield Council Report - 'Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: ethical issues' www.nuffieldbioethics.org
BBC Coverage - Church enters euthanasia debate
Guardian coverage - Lack of treatment 'not euthanasia'
Observer Story - Some sick babies must be allowed to die, says Church
Sunday Times Story - Church supports baby euthanasia
Church of England Policy on Euthanasia
Church of England Submission to Nuffield Council
Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668
Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.