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Bernard Moran: Killing babies the end of the slippery slope

Abortions can be performed up to birth provided two doctors agree that it is necessary. Photo / Thinkstock
Abortions can be performed up to birth provided two doctors agree that it is necessary. Photo / Thinkstock

Bernard Moran, national president of Voice for Life, argues that it's a small step from late abortions to killing newborns.

Many people are understandably shocked at the proposal that babies could be killed after birth. Two medical ethicists have put the case for infanticide in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

You may think it couldn't happen here, but the dynamics of social change should be a warning.

In the Roman era, infanticide was routine and normal. The spreading influence of Christianity put a stop to the practice. In 1920, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche published their book The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life which advocated "compassionate" killing of those deemed "human ballast".

The book was highly regarded by many sympathetic to eugenics among the German medical profession, but few expected its proposals to become law.

Within 13 years the Nazis were in power and immediately applied the machinery of the state to implement Binding and Hoche's ideas.

Robert Jay Lifton, an American Jewish psychiatrist wrote the definitive book on how it all happened in his The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and Psychology of Genocide. In the late 1970s, Lifton managed to interview a number of doctors who had participated in the killing.

On arrival at Auschwitz, some were horrified by what they found and requested immediate transfer back to Germany. But Auschwitz was supposed to be secret and Himmler obviously didn't want medical whistleblowers causing problems, so the new arrivals were embraced by their peers and persuaded that as good Nazis they had to do their duty.

One particular duty was the "selections". As the trains arrived from all over Europe, several doctors would be assigned to select those who would be immediately sent to the gas chambers and those who could work. Lifton's interviewees spoke of their utter dread of being assigned to the selections.

The first one would be nightmarish, but after several, they found them easier to bear and soon the selections became normal routine.

This same process has been admitted by doctors who participate in euthanasia in Holland. One such doctor told investigators from the British House of Lords: "The first time I couldn't sleep before it was done. The second time it wasn't so bad - and after the third, it became a piece of cake." The House of Lords team later wrote in their report that they had seen "the slippery slope personified".

Could infanticide become legal here? The state of Victoria gives us a clue. A coalition of feminist groups, politicians and leading doctors campaigned for the decriminalisation of the state's abortion law. The Abortion Law Reform Act was passed by the state Parliament in October 2008. Abortions can be performed up to birth provided two doctors agree that it is necessary. These two doctors can be the operating surgeon and the anaesthetist.

In New Zealand, the Women's Health Action Trust initiated contact with some of the key organisations and individuals involved in the Victorian campaign. This mentoring has been on-going and in May 2010, an 11-page document was published entitled "A Road Map to Abortion Law Reform". It sets out the campaign strategy to be pursued so that the NZ equivalent of the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act is enshrined here.

A key factor in the success of the Victorian campaign was the involvement of leading obstetricians and gynaecologists, who because of their status were able to lobby and influence a sufficient number of politicians. The Royal New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is discreetly supportive of the Victorian legislation.

When abortion up to birth is made legal, it is a short step to abortion after birth.

The forgotten element in all this campaigning are the nurses. Most late-term abortions are done using prostaglandin to bring on labour. The doctor usually kills the baby with an injection of potassium chloride to prevent a live birth, but it is the nurses who assist with the labour and dispose of the body.

I had a call from a nurse in Auckland late last year. She told me about the distress endured by some of her colleagues in handling late abortions. They dreaded seeing their names on the roster. One nurse showed her a baby boy as if asleep in her arms. "Isn't he lovely?" she exclaimed as tears coursed down her face.

The district health board arranged for a female psychologist to counsel some of the nurses. Apparently she was traumatised by what they told her, but nothing was done about the stress.

This is an ongoing problem for district health boards, as an in-house briefing paper in Auckland in 2003 revealed. In Christchurch in 2001, a clinical director reported: "We are losing competent and highly regarded nursing staff. They find that they cannot cope with these prostaglandin terminations of pregnancy, particularly when they are done for non-medical reasons."

Will the doctors who perform such late-term abortions find it a step too far to kill after birth? I wonder.

- NZ Herald

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