Dutch Doctor Who Engages in Euthanasia of Newborns Unapologetic

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 27, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Dutch Doctor Who Engages in Euthanasia of Newborns Unapologetic Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
December 27, 2004

Amsterdam, Netherlands (LifeNews.com) — Earlier this month, a Dutch hospital sparked an international controversy when it admitted it has been euthanizing severely disabled newborn babies over several years. In an interview with a London newspaper, one doctor who engages in the grisly practice defended his actions.

"There is a small group of children for whom no treatment is possible for the congenital disease and malformations they are born with," Eduard Verhagen, the head of pediatrics at Groningen Hospital, told the London Telegraph.

"Asking doctors to take away the pain easily and allow the child to die quietly is the natural reaction," he said.

"For the incurable to die early requires that we do this or they enter a starvation phase and what suffering is more unbearable than a minor left to die from natural causes such as these," Verhagen alleged.

Verhagen says some of the newborn babies suffered from extreme spina bifida.

However, spina bifida can be diagnosed during pregnancy and some unborn children have had surgery to correct the damage the condition causes.

With spina bifida, which the Spina Bifida Association of America estimates affects about one in 1,000 babies, the spine does not close properly when it should, at about 28 days after conception. The nerves are damaged, then, as the pregnancy continues, the amniotic fluid in the uterus eats away at the spinal cord, adding more nerve damage.

Surgeons at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, University of California, San Francisco, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia regularly perform surgery in the womb to correct the condition or reduce its effects.

About 225 such surgeries have been performed worldwide since 1997.

Yet, babies continue to die in Dutch hospitals.

According to the national prosecutor’s office in The Hague, there have been 18 such cases of euthanasia of newborns in the last four years. Doctors at Groningen say that represents only one-third of the approximate number of euthanasias carried out.

Dutch authorities have not prosecuted Verhagen, other doctors, or hospital officials.

The news that the euthanasia of newborns is occurring has brought strong condemnation from some doctors groups and pro-life organizations.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, wrote to Dutch pediatricians outlining strong opposition to what is happening at Groningen.

However, the objections are not likely going to stop the practice. In fact, the Dutch parliament is considering legislation that would further legitimatize it.

Verhagen said that officials from the Dutch Ministry of Justice told him last week that legislation allowing it would proceed.

Professor Henk Jochemsen, a medical ethicist, calls the killing of the babies, "another step in the wrong direction."

"These doctors say it is restricted to very clear diagnoses," he told the London Guardian newspaper. "But practice tells us it will be gradually extended to others. What is being considered now couldn’t have been considered 10 years ago. It’s the slippery slope."

In many countries, the practice is already running rampant.

Verhagen told the Telegraph that as many as 600 newborn children are euthanized annually and that doctors in European countries such as France and Italy are more routinely engaging in secret euthanasias.