, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 79-90

Death by non-feeding: Not in the baby's best interests

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Abstract

It has recently been suggested that doctors have a duty to act in their patient's best interest and that this duty demands that life-sustaining treatment—including food and fluids—should sometimes be withheld or withdrawn and the patient allowed to die. In this article, the author explores the scope of the ‘best interests principle’ in the context of treatment decisions for seriously handicapped newborn infants. She argues that those who hold that it is permissible to starve or dehydrate an infant to death are mistaken to think that this course of action is in the infant's best interests. While it may be true that there are times whendeath is, everything considered, in an infant's best interests, a slow and distressingmethod of bringing death about is not. Since death by dehydration and starvation is not benign, the withholding of food and fluids is generally not in an infant's best interests. The author concludes by suggesting thatwhenever the withdrawal or non-employment of life-sustaining means imposes a heavy burden on the infant, the ‘best interests principle’ would demand that the infant be killed rather than allowed to die.