Wesley J. Smith reports, with his characteristic restraint, on an article coming out of Canada on how long it takes to starve a newborn infant to death. Evidently when infants in Canadian hospitals are doomed to die in this way, the doctors are discovering that it can take close on a month for them to die. Moreover, they become severely, visibly emaciated, which causes distress (darn it!) to their parents. What to do?
"A critical factor for counseling is to anticipate the kind of suffering that comes with witnessing the emaciation. It isn’t something people can prepare themselves for.” Autopsies are often encouraged in such neonatal palliative care cases to help both parents and medical staff gain a better understanding of the reasons for the death, said Dr. Siden. Parents should be warned that the report will document the technical cause of death as “starvation” — a loaded word for all concerned. It is important that parents separate this word from any notion of suffering, he said.
Yet a little later, Siden indicates that he isn't really sure that the children aren't suffering (emphasis added):
“All of the children we’ve cared for have been in a very quiet, low metabolic state — not an agitated state — with no overt signs of hunger behavior. Whether they are neurologically capable of hunger behavior is another question, and I don’t know the answer. That’s why I am trying to understand better what they are going through, because I don’t want them to suffer,” Dr. Siden explained.
The answer, apparently, is more "study." So that they can reassure parents that the starving infants aren't suffering. I'm sure that will solve everything.
It appears that one thing Siden doesn't have any qualms about is whether it is ethical to starve infants to death because they are neurologically disabled.
In the comment thread I asked whether the children were all being starved to death only with parental approval. Smith thinks that at least in these cases, reported in the story, there is parental approval for the starvation. In one sense, that doesn't make matters any better, but if parents can object effectively, that does put another layer of protection between babies and this particular fate. That protection, however, is somewhat tenuous. Canada does have futile care cases, as this situation demonstrates, and since artificially administered nutrition and hydration are regarded as a "treatment" like any other treatment, there is no reason in principle why doctors in Canada could not go to court for authorization to starve an infant to death against his parents' wishes.
The futile care aspect of this is probably not presently going on in the U.S., but infants in the U.S. certainly can be legally starved and dehydrated to death with parental consent. There was even a strange case in Ohio some years ago in which the state wanted to get custody of a child so that they could remove him from all life support, including ANH, and subsequently charge his father with his death, since he was a victim of abuse. I do not have links ready to hand on that case, but I believe that in the end he was transferred to custody of another relative and died without having his nutrition and hydration withdrawn.