Interview With Neonatologist Carlo Bellieni
SIENA, Italy, 14 NOV. 2006 (ZENIT)
According to British press reports
the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology has asked that doctors
be allowed to let seriously disabled newborns die.
The Royal College sent its request to the Nuffield Bioethics Council,
the body in charge of examining the ethical issues involved in the new
developments of biology and medicine. The latter, an influential private
commission, is about to publish a report on critical decisions in fetal
and neonatal medicine.
Opposition to the Royal College request has been expressed in the United
Kingdom by the British Council of Disabled People.
To better understand the issue and its implications of a bioethical
nature, ZENIT interviewed neonatologist Carlo Bellieni, director of the
Neonatal Intensive Therapy Department of the Le Scotte University
Polyclinic of Siena.
Q: What do you think of the request of the United Kingdom's Royal
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists?
Bellieni: The request to do away with newborns with serious
disabilities, does not leave any pediatrician insensitive, namely, those
who tomorrow will be called to carry out the "eliminations."
But it is not new: Already in 2002 Michael Gross wrote in Bioethics that
there is "a general endorsement of neonaticide subject to a parent's
assessment of the newborn's interest broadly defined to consider
physical harm as well as social, psychological and or financial harm to
related third parties."
And it is always by the "interest of third parties" that one begins to
understand what might be hidden behind a pietistic intention "to put an
end to the child's sufferings."
Q: What are the most disturbing aspects of the British proposal?
Bellieni: Three things disturb pediatricians.
One, having to become executioners of a death sentence. We are not
doctors for this, especially at a time when the death sentence is
stigmatized by an increasing number of states.
Two, having to consider the patients themselves as non-persons. There
are authors who say that newborns are not persons because they still do
not have self-awareness, precisely a requirement for this sensation
affirmations amply denied by science and experience.
Three, having to consider the handicapped not as a life to help and
respect but, with a phobic attitude, as a second-tier life.
Q: Some British doctors have said that no one must be scandalized
because a late abortion is similar to active euthanasia. What is your
opinion in this respect?
Bellieni: I was not surprised by this news. I understand the horror but
I do not understand the astonishment.
Whoever has studied anatomy and biology, whoever is an expert in human
physiology, knows very well that there is no substantial difference
between the fetus and the newborn, other than small modifications in the
Therefore, one cannot understand why it's horrible to kill a newborn but
not to kill a fetus. Unless one believes that the filling of the lungs
with air has a "magic" effect, capable of transforming the DNA or the
The photo of the small dead fetus within the murdered mother, published
a few months ago by an Italian newspaper, made an impression not because
a corpse could be seen
sadly we have also seen recently on TV and in newspapers many dead
children in war and no one has protested
but because the reality was shown: that a fetus is nothing other than a
child that has yet to enjoy the exterior air.
And, every mother knows that this is true, as any one knows whose job it
is to look after the very small fetuses that have come forth prematurely
from the maternal womb, called "premature children." Surgeons who
operate on fetuses that are still in the womb, also know this.
I repeat: The tragedy is that it surprises us, whereas a cultural
endeavor must be initiated, made up of research and serious writing, and
not only of "reactions" to the latest "transgression," to the latest
The real bioethical effort of today is not to affirm a vague feeling of
mercy toward one's neighbor
television programs are also full of tears
but to look for the evidence, the reality; to affirm that an embryo is
an embryo and not just a cell, that a fetus of a few hundred grams feels
pain, that the DNA shows that every one's life begins at conception.
In short, it is like demonstrating that a flower is a flower and not a