On Thursday, Aug. 25, during the Royal Commission to investigate the deaths of thirty six infants at the Hospital for Sick Children from June 1980 to March 1981, Dr. Richard Rowe, chief cardiologist at the hospital; indicated, while being cross-examined by Metro Toronto police lawyer Barry Percival, that the motive for the killings “would perhaps be that of mercy killing.”  When asked if he found the idea of mercy killing mind boggling and heinous.  Dr. Rowe replied “almost.”  He went on to say that the thirty six infants had a “minimal chance of surviving,” and that ‘the sorts of motivation that would prompt infanticide’ would perhaps be that of mercy-killing.”

Mercy killing is not new to the Hospital for Sick Children.  A 20-year study of Down’s Syndrome children at the hospital was published in a medical journal in December of 1974.

In that study, it was documented that 27 children were ‘permitted to die with the consent of the parents. Parental consent in any of the recent baby deaths has yet to be reported.  Some parents are said to be grief stricken and outraged.

Dr. Rowe’s admission come four and six months after the Canadian Psychiatric Association published a harsh reminder of that study of that hospital between 1952 and 1971 showing that 27 of 50 babies suffered from Down’s  Syndrome and blocked food

passages were allowed to die by withholding lie-giving surgery.  Assistant Administrator for the hospital, Ken Rowe, said of the deaths, at that time (Feb.  16, 1979) that, “the parents and their doctor, after consultation, decided not to operate” and that, “if the child lives, we will end up with a being who only has minimal capacity for personal development.”

Dr. William Vail, President of the Ontario Medical Association, on /Feb. 15, 1979 described the practice of withholding surgery on mongoloid infants as “…not being rare.  We are all aware of it.  He continued, “I don’t know if withholding surgery is legal . I’m not sure, “he said the O.M.A. “…does not have an official position.

A then spokesman for the Canadian Medical Association, Douglas Geekie, said that the C.M.A. has a newly revised code of ethics “to allow patients to die in dignity.”  Geekie expressed surprise at the psychiatrist’s position saying “it’s a medical decision.  Even if physicians did unblock the food passage, it’s only solving one problem.”

Dr. J. Say then president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, commented, without having seen the paper:  “Down’s Syndrome is often accompanied by multiple other abnormalities and, in some cases, maybe it’s best not to do anything further,” he said.

“There may come a point where we must say “we’ve done as much as we should, and to do more would be wrong.  It would not be of benefit to the human being involved.”

The suggestion that death can be a benefit to a child perhaps underscores the meaning of ,mercy killing, to some doctors.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association harshly criticized the Hospital for Sick Children since the position paper points out that the study shows the malfunction in these babies was an “easily correctible lesion.   This malfunction, if left uncorrected causes the child to starve to death.

They also noted, “The role of medicine is not to cut short the life of humans with various defects, particularly with increasing medical knowledge.

Decisions not to operate on children with massive birth defects are uncommon, but with “quite legal” even if those involved know death will result, Ken Rowe said.  He also noted that the hospital itself has no policy on the subject.  Ken Rowe Assistant Administrator and Hospital Secretary, is not related to Dr. Richard Rowe, Chief Cardiologist.

The C.P.A. statement (three years before Infant Doe in the U.S.) warned physicians against withholding treatment unless they have a court order.

There was no public outcry in 1979 to this criticism of  physicians by the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s council on professional standards and practices.

The series of deaths now being investigated by the royal commission headed by Mr. Justice Samuel Grange, began a little more that a year after the CPA position paper was published.

Most of the babies who died in the hospital in March 1981, were very ill with sever heart defects.  Dr. Rowe said he could not recall mercy killing being mentioned when doctors met to try to figure out what was causing the dramatic increase in deaths on the hospital’s cardiac ward.

“It (euthanasia) may have come into those discussions,” he said.  “We talked of many things and we didn’t keep notes.”