When Torment Is Baby’s Destiny, Euthanasia Is Defended

“Babies born into what is certain to be a brief life of grievous suffering should have their lives ended by physicians under strict guidelines, according to two doctors in the Netherlands.

The doctors, Eduard Verhagen and Pieter J. J. Sauer of the University Medical Center in Groningen, in an essay in today’s New England Journal of Medicine, said they had developed guidelines, known as the Groningen protocol. The guidelines have been described in some news reports over the last several weeks, and the authors said they wrote their essay to address ‘blood-chilling accounts and misunderstandings.’

‘We are convinced that life-ending measures can be acceptable in these cases under very strict conditions,’ the authors wrote. Those conditions include the full and informed consent of the parents, the agreement of a team of physicians, and a subsequent review of each case by ‘an outside legal body’ to determine whether the decision was justified and all procedures had been followed.

Stephen Drake, a research analyst at Not Dead Yet, an organization based in the United States that views euthanasia and assisted suicide as threats to people with disabilities, said ‘there’s nothing surprising about the medical profession wanting to formalize and legitimize practices that have wide acceptance in the medical community worldwide,’ and added, ‘Obviously, we’re against that.’ The Groningen protocol, he said, is based on ‘singling out infants based on somebody else’s assessment of their quality of life.’

Doctors commonly abort fetuses when grave medical conditions like Tay-Sachs disease are diagnosed in utero, and after birth will commonly withdraw treatment from infants with no hope of survival, or even end the lives of some of those newborns. In a telephone interview, Dr. Verhagen said that he and Dr. Sauer were trying to bring a measure of accountability to acts that go on every day around the world. ‘Given the fact that it is already happening,’ he said, ‘we find it unacceptable that it is happening in silence.'” (New York Times )