MORAL PRINCIPLES CONCERNING INFANTS WITH ANENCEPHALY
Committee on Doctrine
National Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.)

Doubts about the anencephalic infant's human dignity "have no solid ground, and the benefit of any doubt must be in the child's favour. As a general rule, conditions of the human body, regardless of severity, in no way compromise human dignity or human rights", the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement sent to all U.S. Bishops 20 September, following approval of its distribution by the NCCB Administrative Committee. The statement took issue with the argument by some that anencephalic children, "because of their apparent lack of cognitive function, and in view of the probable brevity of their lives", lack human rights "or at least have lives of less meaning or purpose than others", and thus "may be prematurely delivered, even when this would be inappropriate for other children". The committee said, "It can never be morally justified directly to cause the death of an innocent person no matter the age or condition of that person". It said, "The anencephalic child during his or her probably brief life after birth should be given the comfort and palliative care appropriate to all the dying". However, it said, "this failing life need not be further troubled by using extraordinary means to prolong it". The statement includes discussion of the treatment of pathologies in a pregnant mother, baptism and burial for anencephalic infants, and organ donation. (Last year the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs of the American Medical Association suspended its controversial 1994 policy decision that would have permitted transplant of organs of anencephalic newborns "even before the neonates die, as long as there is parental consent and certain other safeguards are followed".) The doctrinal committee said that donating the organs of an anencephalic child to "assist other children" is commendable for parents, "but this may never be permitted before the donor child is certainly dead". (The statement refers to the U.S. Bishops' "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services". That text appeared in Origins, vol. 24, pp. 449ff.)

Bishops' Committee on Doctrine statement

BCD Staff Commentary

Fr. Benedict Ashley Commentary


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 September 1998, page 6

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