A senior English pediatrician, charged with the attempted murder of a three-day-old baby born with Down’s Syndrome (Mongolism), was acquitted by a unanimous jury verdict after an 18-day trial. The verdict prompted applause and cries of “Thank God!” from the public gallery.
Not everyone, however, was happy about making God party to such a decision. The essential facts were not in dispute. Last July in the Derby city hospital, John Pearson’s life ended after three days. His mother had rejected him at birth because of his affliction. He had been given dihydrocodeine, an analgesic (sensation-killing) drug, on the instructions of Dr. Leonard Arthur, a highly qualified and experienced physician. The effect of the drug, with accompanying pneumonia, had reportedly caused his death.
A national newspaper estimated that 300 severely handicapped British babies a year are left to die without treatment that would prolong their lives. American figures for infanticide (that is the word we have always used for “uncivilized” people who carried on this practice) are proportionately much larger.
The British trial raised a nest of wide-ranging issues of deep concern to all evangelicals. Sir Douglas Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, defended the doctor’s action and hoped there would be no McCarthy-style watch hunt in the medical profession. Former medical professor and eminent pediatrician Hobert Zachary, on the other hand, commented: “If you sedate a new-born baby so heavily that it does not feed, it will die from starvation; and that is as positive a way of killing it as if you cut its throat.”
Evangelicals recognize there is no simple answer to the dilemma faced by Dr. Arthur and the parents of the deformed baby. They understand ...1
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