What is the responsibility of government and the church to promote the sanctity of life?

Last month, CHRISTIANITY TODAY reported that U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop designed new regulations to protect the rights of handicapped infants. Koop’s revised guidelines won the support of formerly skeptical doctors and hospital administrators.

The government is requiring federally funded hospitals to set up review committees to monitor life-and-death decisions about babies who need immediate medical care. Also, notices are to be posted warning that it is unlawful to discriminate against newborns by withholding ordinary treatment because they are handicapped. A telephone hot line is available for hospital personnel to report suspected abuses.

In an interview, Koop discussed other aspects of his efforts to guarantee medical care for handicapped infants.

How will the new review committees differ from some already in existence that rely on “quality of life” considerations?

The ones we are proposing are called patient-care review committees rather than ethical review committees. The difference is that existing ethical review committees are totally internal. A single, strong personality on such a committee will dominate it.

To avoid that, we put in three safeguards and a fail-safe mechanism at the end. First, each committee will include a member of the community at large. Second, there will be someone to represent one of the disability advocacy groups. And third, at any meeting to consider a patient’s problem, a person will be appointed as a special advocate of that child. A final safeguard is a sign telling hospital personnel, if they suspect noncompliance, to call the committee, the state, or the Department of Health and Human Services ...

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