Officials from the Dutch Ministry of Justice say the legislature of the Netherlands is preparing a new protocol designed to protect doctors who euthanize newborns with severe disabilities, according to Dr. Eduard Verhagen, the head of pediatrics at Groningen Hospital.
Verhagen is an outspoken advocate for killing seriously deformed babies, a procedure he admits he’s performed four times in the past 16 months.
“There is a small group of children for whom no treatment is possible for the congenital disease and malformations they are born with,” Verhagen told the London Telegraph, explaining why he had chosen to break the law. “Asking doctors to take away the pain easily and allow the child to die quietly is the natural reaction.
“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.”
While prosecutors have declined to take action against the doctor, various pro-life groups have condemned him. The Vatican labeled Verhagen and other physicians involved in medical killings of infants as little better than the Nazi medical workers who killed defective newborns to create Hitler’s master race.
“This is a Darwinian nightmare and a grave violation of the laws of God,” a spokesman for Wim Eijk, the Roman Catholic bishop in Groningen said last week. “It is crossing a boundary thus far prohibited in every code. Euthanasia for children in circumstances where it is not possible to seek or secure the consent of those affected. It is a slippery slope that will give doctors the right to impose life or death, and will lead to an argument that it should be extended to all.”
Currently, Dutch doctors who support Dr. Verhagen are regularly reporting “neo-natal” deaths to the national prosecutor’s office in the Hague in an attempt to force a prosecution and confrontation over the practice in the courts. The lack of prosecution, thus far, is being used to support their claim that the practice is humane and that it should no longer be done in secret, but openly, with government protection for doctors.
Voluntary euthanasia is already legal in the Netherlands for anyone above the age of 12. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people have been euthanized since 2002.
“It makes you shiver to see babies suffer such enormous pain caused by their deformities, especially when you know that life expectancy is extremely low,” says Verhagen. “Right now in all countries doctors are forced to find a solution behind the curtain. We want to shine a spotlight on this, to have clear rules so that no doctor is left facing a murder charge.”
In 1997, tacit legal permission to euthanize was granted when the government refused to sentence a doctor found guilty of medically killing an infant. But Verhagen and other doctors want explicit permission and that’s why they’ve been reporting their “crimes” to the authorities.
Verhagen concludes: “We want what is acceptable and unacceptable to be in the open. That it should be brought forward like this fits into the structure of Dutch society and the legal system. We deal with these problems that every country shares.”
Cry-for-Life, a pro-life lobbying group promises to resist any change in the law that will remove the threat of prosecution from doctors who kill handicapped infants.
“This is the product of lobbying by doctors who feel they should be free to do what they want to do,” says spokesman Bert Dorenbos. “If the condition of handicapped-born babies is really incurable, it should not be necessary to kill them but to treat them humanely until their passing. There will be more children who will die because of these changes.”