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Infant Euthanasia: Will The British Be Following The Dutch?

Category Articles
Date July 5, 2005

Growing calls for infant euthanasia in the Netherlands provide a chilling glimpse of what could happen in the UK if eugenicists and euthanasiasts like Lady Warnock get their way. The Netherlands has the most liberal laws on euthanasia in the world. Voluntary euthanasia was legalised in 2001 for people over 12 suffering hopelessly and unbearably from conditions which offer no reasonable prospect of recovery. The Dutch were assured that it would be restricted to adults only.

However, in a recent paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Eduard Verhagen and colleagues from the Groningen Hospital in the Netherlands are pushing for euthanasia to be extended to newborns and infants, the so-called ‘Groningen protocol.’ This would free doctors from the fear of prosecution for murder should they end the life of a child. Dr Verhagen’s argument rests largely on the claim that much infant ‘mercy killing’ is already taking place in the Netherlands. Indeed, The Lancet reported in 1997 that Dutch doctors were killing 8 per cent of all infants who died annually. ‘In the Netherlands we want to expose everything’ he has said. ‘We know children’s lives are being ended around the world. What we want to do is to be open and discuss it, not hide it.’

The protocol sets out guidelines for the killing of very ill newborns and infants: a team of experts in a hospital must agree that the child has no ‘quality of life’ and is beyond treatment; a team in another hospital must support that decision and the parents must consent. Dr Verhagen, a father of three, openly admits ending the lives of four babies with spina bifida in his ‘care’. He describes the last few minutes of the babies’ lives and the ‘relief for everyone in the room’. He tells of parents of another child who asked him to end their daughter’s life as she was suffering from a rare and debilitating disease that would allow her 5, 6 years at most. The fact that he could not legally ‘help’ them is something he clearly regrets.

No one can fail to have sympathy for the parents of very sick children and realise that they present real challenges. But it is especially telling that Dr Verhagen describes the relief of those witnessing the killing of such babies. It seems these babies have been killed, in no small measure, to relieve the suffering of those around them the parents and the medics.

To most people all euthanasia is wrong but infant euthanasia is especially repugnant. Who can decide whether a life is worth living? Do doctors really know the long-term prognosis for the babies they kill? For what conditions will babies be killed – will the list of qualifying diseases grow ever-longer? Will parents be able to live with their decision to kill their own offspring? How will they explain to their existing and future children that one of their siblings was killed at their request?

The Netherlands are already a long way down the euthanasia road. There is a real danger that the Groningen protocol could lead to the complete approval of involuntary infant euthanasia. All this could happen here in Britain. Lady Warnock has recently argued that very premature or disabled babies should automatically be denied treatment and allowed (i.e. caused) to die. She is hailed as a leading ethicist. Her views are bound to gain support from our increasingly eugenicist society. Britain could easily ‘go Dutch’. We must be vigilant.

Mary Lubrano
Editor LIFE News, Summer 2005, Issue 46, With permission.

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