A LEADING Catholic. theologian said last week that parents are free to allow a seriously handicapped premature baby to be put in an incubator. or to let it die.
Mgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini, answering a reader's question in the Vatican magazine, L'Osservatore della Domenica, said all "ordinary" measures to preserve human life were a duty.
"But if the prolonging of life is uncertain or if one can expect hardship, pain and need for costly and continued treatment, remedies may be considered extraordinary and not binding on the consciences of patients, relatives and doctors. "This distinction must be kept in mind in discussing whether there is a duty to keep prematurely born babies alive by means of incubators.
"One can say there is such an obligation when it is expected they can live a normal life, but when children are abnormal—for instance, suffering from mongolism (congenital idiocy)—one can neither ban nor impose, in the name of Christian conscience, recourse to incubators which would prolong a life of hardships and sacrifices."
Mgr. Lambruschini said the view that "it is better to live as a cripple than not live at all" was "simplistic." "We prefer to rest on the principle that nothing can be done to abbreviate human life directly. but at the same time one may omit some extraordinary measures to extend life under conditions of particular plight.
"This is not cynicism, but healthy realism inspired by wisdom. Behaviour based on heroism always deserves admiration but cannot always be imposed."
Mgr. Lambruschini said organ transplants and other dangerous surgery also fell in the category of "extraordinary" remedies that cannot be considered obligatory.