News that a hospital in the Netherlands has been euthanasing children prompted cries of alarm around the world this week -- even though the story first surfaced in the English-speaking media several weeks ago (see BioEdge 135). The Groningen Academic Hospital has asked the Dutch government to review its protocols for actively ending the lives of newborns who appear to be in pain from incurable disease or extreme deformities. Perhaps anticipating approval by the authorities, the hospital announced that it had already carried out four killings of this kind in 2003. No charges have been laid.
The leading association for doctors in the Netherlands, the KNMG, also asked the Health Ministry earlier this year to create an independent board to review involuntary euthanasia for people "with no free will", including children, the severely retarded and people in irreversible comas after accidents. The government may respond this month.
American bioethicists and paediatricians were reluctant to approve of the Dutch doctors' initiative. Bioethicist Arthur Caplan said that he worried about the possibility of unexpected recovery. There's no room for error in euthanasia. But babies prove you wrong more often than any other patient." An Oregon paediatrician, Dr Linda Wallen, commented that, "My initial reaction is that euthanasia is for the family's comfort, not the baby's."
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