Jewish and American law alike regard an infant as indistinguishable from a competent-if-unconscious person, and hold that even its parents can be liable for wrongs done to it. American law not only purports to limit the options of citizens, but to provide sanctions and even prior restraint. More remarkable still, American law appears not to recognize the problem of scarcity of resources.
Jewish and American law have in common that both have been built up over generations by following precedent--stare decisis--rather than by any intent to create a rational society (as in a constitutional convention): thus, even if the precedents are in harmony, it is always debatable what is the law of which the decisions are the evidence. Therefore, both bodies of law have difficulty with the issues raised by modern medical technology, which has allowed the preservation of life in highly unnatural ways.
I - The Issue of the Afflicted Infant
Modern medical science has a good understanding of the manner in which chromosome defects, such as trisotomy 18 (Edward's Syndrome) or trisotomy 21 (Down's Syndrome), affect a foetus. These conditions present the situation that the infant may be incapable of life without some form of medical/surgical intervention, but with such intervention may live for years or decades with severely limited abilities, typically requiring continual care. The incapacity may or may not extend also to mental functions; a number of live births show partial or total absence of a brain.
The normal infant, we may suppose, requires only the care of a mother or nurse to become, in course of time, both physically and mentally independent. The issue then is, whether mental or physical disability, or both together, justifies the infant being treated differently from a normal infant--either being denied the (normal or abnormal) care necessary for survival, or being caused to die relatively quickly--passive or active euthan...