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Killing Babies, Compassionately

The Netherlands follows in Germany's footsteps.

11:00 PM, Mar 26, 2006 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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Beginning in early 1939, babies born with birth defects or with congenital diseases were euthanized. Their doctors would admit these unfortunate infants to medical clinics, where they would be killed. The practice quickly became systematized. Regulations made it mandatory for midwives and doctors to notify authorities whenever a baby was born with birth defects. These cases would be reviewed by the euthanasia referees to determine if the children were eligible for euthanasia. Those deemed killable were usually dispatched via an overdose of a drug, most typically a sedative called Luminal. The euphemism of choice for this murder was "treatment." Most, but not all, of this killing was done in secret.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that throughout the years in which euthanasia was performed in Germany, whether as part of the officially sanctioned government program or otherwise, the government did not force doctors to kill. Participating doctors had become true believers, convinced they were performing a valuable medical service for their "patients" and their country.

Eventually, the "success" of the infant euthanasia program led to the infamous "T-4" project in which adult disabled German citizens were mass murdered. Hitler eventually canceled the T-4 program in the face of public protests but that didn't matter. From around 1943 until a few weeks after the end of the war, some doctors went on a eugenic killing rampage. Known today as "wild euthanasia," during the later war years German doctors killed any patient they pleased, often without medical examination, usually by starvation or lethal injection.

Dutch Infant Euthanasia

IN 2004, Groningen University Medical Center made international headlines when it admitted to permitting pediatric euthanasia and published the "Groningen Protocol," infanticide guidelines the hospital followed when killing 22 disabled newborns between 1997 and 2004. The media reacted as if killing disabled babies in the Netherlands was something new. But Dutch doctors have engaged in infanticide for more than 15 years. (A Dutch government-supported documentary justifying infant euthanasia played on PBS in 1993. Moreover, a study published in 1997 in the Lancet determined that in 1995, about 8 percent of all infants who died in the Netherlands--some 80 babies--were euthanized by doctors, and not all with parental consent; this figure was reproduced in a subsequent study covering the year 2001.)

As far back as 1990, the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) published a report intended to govern "life-terminating actions" taken against incompetent patients, including severely disabled newborns. The KNMG approved of pediatric euthanasia if the baby is deemed to have an "unlivable life," a concept disturbingly close to Binding and Hoche's "life unworthy of life."

The "livableness" of a newborn's life is determined by a combination of factors, including the following:

* The expected measure of suffering (not only bodily but also emotional--the level of hopelessness)

* The expected potential for communication and human relationships, independence (ability to move, to care for oneself, to live independently), self-realization (being able to hear, read, write, labor), and the like.

* The child's life expectancy.

If the infant's "prospects" didn't measure up, the child could be euthanized.

The subsequently compiled Groningen Protocol--which is expected to form the basis for the official approval of Dutch pediatric euthanasia--similarly created categories of killable babies: infants "with no chance of survival," infants with a "poor prognosis and are dependent on intensive care," and "infants with a hopeless prognosis," including those "not depending on intensive medical treatment but for whom a very poor quality of life . . . is predicted." In other words, infant euthanasia is not restricted to dying babies but can be based on predicted serious disability.

SO, WAS GIOVANARDI CORRECT in his comparison of Dutch infant euthanasia with that of Germany circa 1938-1945? No and yes. Certainly the breadth and scope of the killing in Germany far exceeded anything that is ever likely to happen in the Netherlands. And, to their credit, the Dutch unquestionably disdain the kind of pernicious social Darwinism that helped fuel the German euthanasia pogrom. Nor does pediatric euthanasia seem to be financially motivated, which also played a part in German infant euthanasia.

But the Netherlands cannot escape this ugly fact: Dutch doctors kill scores of babies each year and justify this fundamental abuse of human rights upon the inherently discriminatory concept that they can decide that another human being's life is of such low quality it has no business being lived.