Last night we heard the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra play Pierre Jalbert's deeply moving In Aeternum, which he wrote as a memorial to his niece who died at birth. Naturally, my thoughts were about Isaac as I listened, running a gamut of emotions, including anger during an intense part of the work with a heartbeat motif running through it—that brought back memories of the doctor who interrupted the family's last moments together to tell them Isaac's heart rate was slowing down.
I had the privilege of speaking briefly with Jalbert afterwards and was able to tell him (though not fully express) how much the music meant to me. You can hear an exerpt of In Aeternum here.
(Some readers of this blog will be interested to know that Jalbert is a native son of Manchester, New Hampshire!)
Having been set up by last night's experience, I was not prepared to handle this morning's news from the United Kingdom: The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology is recommending active euthanasia for severely disabled newborns.
In these days of extreme medical care, the right and wrong of a situation is often a messy shade of grey. I fully support the right of a family to bring a loved one—young, old, or in between—home to die in friendly, familiar, natural surroundings, even if medical intervention would extend that person's life. This has nothing to do with actively, purposefully killing a helpless, innocent human being whose existence has become difficult or expensive, and the two issues should not be conflated. That respected doctors should hold such a position does nothing to bolster my already-waning trust in the medical profession.
I have no doubt that financial considerations weighed heavily in this recommendation, and I am saddened and angry for the new parents who—at the moment of their greatest grief and heartache—will face pressure from the UK's National Health Service to allow their babies to be cheaply killed rather than run up expensive medical bills. Nor do I have any illusions that the trend will stop with newborns.
John Harris, a member of the official Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University, welcomed the college's submission. "We can terminate for serious foetal abnormality up to term, but cannot kill a newborn," he told The Sunday Times. "What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it OK to kill the foetus at one end of the birth canal but not the other?"
If conception is not enough of a momentous occurrence to mark the beginning of a life worthy of protection...if viability outside the womb is not...if the moment of birth is not...then we are left with nothing at all.