Researcher to Dutch Government: Allow Euthanasia for Newborns Based on Foreseeable Suffering

Tue Dec 8, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST

By Patrick B. Craine
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, December 7, 2009 ( - A Dutch health researcher has called on the nation's government to allow physicians to euthanize newborns based on foreseen suffering, rather than only actual suffering, reports the Dutch medical journal Zorgkrant. 
Hilde Buiting, maintains that such an amendment would only conform the law to the current practice among physicians.
"The current guidelines state that there must be actual grave suffering on the part of the newborn," she said, as quoted in Zorgkrant.  "In practice, physicians look not only to the actual suffering of the sick newborn, but also to the grave suffering foreseen in the future.  This reality should be included in the considerations in adapting the guidelines."
The Groningen Protocol, approved by the Dutch government in 2006, establishes guidelines within which physicians may kill seriously ill newborns.

The Protocol allows doctors to kill newborns who fit into three separate categories: those who are so ill that they are likely to die very soon; those who could survive after "intensive treatment," but "expectations regarding their future condition are very grim," and; those who can survive without any additional medical treatment whatsoever, but are deemed to be experiencing suffering and "for whom a very poor quality of life, associated with sustained suffering, is predicted."

The Dutch government has established a committee to oversee newborn euthanasia, but they have received very few reports of the practice thus far.
Buiting made her comments in response to a statement made last month by Dutch State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sports Jet Bussemaker, who expressed concern about the lack of reporting.
Buiting believes that doctors will be more willing to report newborn euthanasia cases if the guidelines are amended to reflect what she says is the current practice among doctors - of killing newborns based upon likely, and not only actual, suffering.
"Given that we in the Netherlands find it important to exercise social control over the active killing of newborns, the guidelines should therefore be adjusted," she said.
However, according to Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, "[potential future suffering] was always part of the Groningen Protocol."
He pointed to the February 2008 article "Ending the Life of a Newborn," from the prestigious bioethics journal The Hastings Center Report, which aimed to clarify various "misunderstandings" about the Protocol.  According to the authors, the Protocol already allows for euthanasia based on future suffering.
"The protocol has been taken to apply not only to pain, but also to other kinds of serious and unrelievable conditions," they wrote.  "The protocol thus leaves room for cases in which the suffering will take place in the future."
The Groningen Protocol, Schadenberg went on, "is not just about terminally ill newborns in difficult situations.  It's about newborns who are not always terminally ill.  Some of them are actually not even needing medical treatment."

The Protocol is "a eugenic policy," he insisted, "because we're determining at the newborn stage that these children will have a wretched life, so let's end their lives."  "In reality we have little actual knowledge of what is the actual situation for that child," he said.

While the Netherlands say they are motivated by compassion, according to Schadenberg, "they've become a cold and harsh society that eliminates those people who are most in need of care."

The situation in the Netherlands "should be saying to Canadian society that we need to be going the opposite direction and actually provide care," said Schadenberg, referring to Canada's current debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide.  "We actually have to care for people, not kill them."

See related coverage: 
SHOCK: Newborns Who Suffer are "Better off Dead" - "World's Most Prestigious" Bioethics Journal  
Paediatric Neurosurgeons Criticize Dutch Practice of Euthanasia on Babies With Spina Bifida  
Editorial: Infanticide Goes Mainstream and Why Prolife Arguments Need an Update  
US Pediatric Nursing Journal Toys with Condoning Infanticide  
Infant Euthanasia Underreported in Netherlands, Study Finds

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