Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (1):24-25 (2020)

Guy Kahane
Oxford University
Dominic Wilkinson
Oxford University
The four thoughtful commentaries on our feature article draw out interesting empirical and normative questions. The aim of our study was to examine the views of a sample of the general public about a set of cases of disputed treatment for severely impaired infants.1 We compared those views with legal determinations that treatment was or was not in the infants’ best interests, and with some published ethical frameworks for decisions. We deliberately did not draw explicit ethical conclusions from our survey findings, both because of the acknowledged limitations of survey methodology, and because survey conclusions cannot, in themselves, yield answers about what the right threshold should be for providing or withholding treatment.2 In this brief response, we are going to address head-on the important ethical question raised within our survey – when life is worth living for an infant. We follow-up on the suggestion of two commentators that the presence or absence of “relational potential” might be ethically important to report in studies of the outcome of severely impaired infants,3 and to whether parental requests for treatment should be supported.4 The notion of “relational potential” was introduced by John Arras in a 1984 commentary.5 Arras was responding to the Baby Doe Regulations and a …
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DOI 10.1136/medethics-2019-106017
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