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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 16:12 GMT
Church enters euthanasia debate
Baby feet
The issue is a controversial one
A Christian medical body says holding back treatment to allow ill newborn babies to die - when treatment would be "a burden" - is not euthanasia.

The Christian Medical Fellowship was responding to a report in the Observer.

That said the Church of England believed withholding treatment from some seriously disabled newborns may be right "in some circumstances".

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has been seeking submissions into critical care in foetal and neonatal medicine.

It told the BBC it has received over 100 submissions from interested organisations into the controversial issue.

Its report will be published on Thursday looking at the ethical, social and legal issues which may arise when making decisions surrounding treating extremely premature babies.

Christian compassion

According to the newspaper the Church of England's submission was made by the Bishop of Southwark, Reverend Tom Butler.

There's a point in medicine where we say enough is enough, and sometimes the treatment can be worse than the disease
Dr Peter Saunders, Christian Medical Fellowship

It reportedly said that while it could not accept the argument that the life of any baby is not worth living, there were "strong proportionate reasons" for "overriding the presupposition that life should be maintained".

"There may be occasions where, for a Christian, compassion will override the 'rule' that life should inevitably be preserved," Rev Butler was quoted as saying.

"Disproportionate treatment for the sake of prolonging life is an example of this."

'Good medical judgement'

Dr Peter Saunders, general secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said in some cases withdrawing or withholding treatment was conceivable.

"If it's an underlying condition that's causing the death and you're withholding the treatment because you believe that that treatment's burden far outweighs any benefit it can bring, then it might be quite appropriate," he said.

"There's a point in medicine where we say enough is enough, and sometimes the treatment can be worse than the disease. And in those cases it is good medical judgment to withhold."

Dr Saunders said that such an action was not the same as euthanasia - intentionally assisting in ending the life of a patient.

Last week the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it wanted a discussion over whether "deliberate intervention" to cause death in severely disabled babies should be legalised.

The college said it was not necessarily in favour of the move, but felt it should be debated.


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