Is It Ever OK To Euthanize a Baby?

In Holland, some doctors and parents say the answer is yes

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Imagine the unimaginable: Your newborn baby is born with a severe, deadly birth defect or contracts a fatal illness. The baby will die and is in tremendous pain. In this case, is it justified, perhaps even humane, to euthanize the child?

In Holland, some doctors and parents say the answer is yes. Back in 2005, the Netherlands adopted the Groningen Protocol, which is designed to help doctors end the suffering of very sick newborns through euthanasia. The rule requires that five criteria must be met before taking the decision to end the child’s life: beyond-a-doubt diagnosis; presence of unbearable suffering; a second expert medical opinion to verify the child’s condition; consent of both parents; and compliance with medical standards.

Some critics feared that this would create a “slippery slope” of infanticide, but new research published in the Journal of Medical Ethics contends that that has not been the case. The authors reviewed all reported case of infant euthanasia between 2001 and 2010 (doctors sometimes covertly practiced infanticide before the protocol was passed) and found that in 95 percent of cases the mode of euthanasia was withholding or withdrawing treatment. In 60 percent of those cases, this was because the infant would soon die from an incurable disease. For the remaining 40 percent, quality of life prompted the decision.

However, since 2007, doctors reported euthanizing just two babies. The authors of the new paper suspect that an increase in abortions when fatal problems are detected in the womb may explain this. Alternatively, doctors may be confused about what constitutes euthanasia–such as withholding treatment, food or water—and may be underreporting it. Either way, the authors write, there has not been a detectable snowballing of euthanized babies in Holland as a result of the new protocol.

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