Euthanasia to Infanticide
REV. JOSEPH THAM, LC
Groningen protocol in the Holland seeks to create the legal
framework to actively end the lives of newborns suffering from
incurable diseases or extreme deformities.
Nicky Chapman was born in 1961 with a rare condition called brittle bone
disease. During her birth alone she suffered 50 fractures. Doctors told
her parents that she would be blind, deaf and unable to communicateand
with severely diminished mental functions.
Under a recently proposed guideline in Holland, if doctors at the
hospital think that a child suffers unbearably from a terminal
condition, they have the authority to end the child's life. Known as the
Groningen protocol, it was published by Drs. Eduard Verhagen and Pieter
Sauer in the New England Journal of Medicine. If this were in
place back in 1961, Nicky would probably not have survived.
Luckily, her parents did not take the doctors' advice and brought
Nicky home. Despite the 600 fractures in her life and a short stature of
2 feet 9 inches, she grew up, obtained education and work. In fact,
Nicky Chapman managed to become the first person with a congenital
disability to be appointed to the British House of Lords, in October
The Groningen protocol seeks to create the legal framework to
actively end the lives of newborns suffering from incurable diseases or
extreme deformities. Conditions cited in the paper are very premature
births and severe cases of spina bifida and epidermosis bullosa (a rare
blister-forming skin disease).
The Netherlands boasts the most permissive laws on euthanasia in the
world. Voluntary euthanasia was legalized in 2001, with the condition
that the patient "suffers hopelessly and unbearably" without reasonable
prospect of resolution. Those between the ages of 12 and16 must obtain
These authors believed that life-ending measures can be acceptable in
cases when the child's medical team and independent doctors agree the
pain cannot be eased and there is no prospect for improvement, and when
the parents consent to it.
It is alarming that four such killings have already taken place at
the Groningen hospital, where lethal doses of sedatives were pumped into
terminally ill babies. Although these cases were reported to government
authorities, no legal charges have been pressed against the hospital or
Allowing this practice to continue can set a very dangerous precedent
where infanticide may become legalized. As the abortion debate has
shown, proponents of abortion have first lobbied this for "hard cases"
such as rape or anencephaly. Once the extreme was permitted, it did not
take long before abortion became legal on demand.
On this ethical slippery slope, if infants could be killed for their
supposedly low quality of life, one could eventually justify killing for
less severe conditions. As Dutch bioethicist Henk Jochemsen wrote, "Hard
cases make bad laws. As soon as a law is passed, it will expand the
number of those who are considered extreme cases."
Along with infanticide, this protocol would also pave the way for
As prenatal diagnosis becomes routine, when some genetic disease or
congenital deformity is discovered, more often than not abortion is the
option. This Dutch protocol can become an extension of the eugenic
practice of killing deformed newborns not previously detected in
It is not so surprising when one hears academics such as Peter
Singer, Chair of Ethics at Princeton, advocating infanticide. In his
book Should the Baby Live, Singer suggests that "a period of 28
days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having
the same right to life as others … and would allow a couple to decide
that it is better not to continue with a life that has begun very
Since euthanasia became legal in Holland, there has been a decline of
palliative medicine, where the sick and dying are kept comfortable at
the last stages of their lives. If the protocol were approved, a similar
impact might occur in neonatology, where premature babies might not be
revived, even though medical advancements are continuously increasing
their chances of survival.
In their effort to gather support for this protocol, advocates are
repeating the same argument used to make euthanasia legal.
Verhagen argued that newborns with severe malformations are already
being killed each year in Holland without being prosecuted. He feels
that it is wrong to keep it in secret: "In the Netherlands we want to
In stating that mercy killing is common practice among doctors and
that legalization would bring this hidden practice out into the public
for better control, this strategy worked to legalize euthanasia in 2001.
However, a study by the British Medical Journal estimates that
despite the new law, about half the physicians in Holland continue to
conduct euthanasia in secret.
Many also worry that after children, who will be next?
There is a very real danger that accepting the Groningen protocol could
lead to approval of involuntary euthanasia. Though this practice is
still illegal in Holland, studies conducted by the Dutch government
reveal that since 2001, many patients are put to death without their
express consent. In fact, cases of killing without consent presently
outnumber those conducted with consent.
Since euthanasia became legal in Holland,
there has been a decline of palliative medicine, where the sick
and dying are kept comfortable at the last stages of their
In a recent court case in Holland, a doctor injected fatal drugs into
an elderly woman after she told him she didn't want to die. He was
Such legally sanctioned abuses have created a climate of fear among
elderly persons and hospital residents. They wear arm bracelets telling
doctors not to end their lives prematurely, or they relocate to nursing
homes across the border in Germany where euthanasia is still illegal.
The Groningen protocol is problematic because it is based on somebody
else's assessment of a child's quality of life.
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life,
criticized this guideline, since "the child or newborn infant is not
capable of evaluating or defining his suffering as unbearable; the
person who assesses it is the doctor, and those who consent and decide
are relatives. Incidentally, is not this an issue of their own
"Quality of Life and Ethics of Health" was precisely the theme of the
annual meeting of the academy last month. On this occasion, John Paul II
recalled that very often "the so-called quality of life is interpreted
primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism,
physical beauty and pleasure." (Evangelium Vitae N. 23). The
Pope emphasized that every person has inherent dignity that "should be
recognized and respected in any condition of health, infirmity or
Nicky — or rather — Lady Chapman would agree with this assessment.
Employing her newfound status, Baroness Chapman of Reeds is actively
working against legislation in the United Kingdom that could pave the
way to euthanasia.
As she adeptly maneuvers her electric wheelchair in the House of
Lords, it is chilling to think of that doctor's long-distant diagnosis
that she had "no noticeable mental functions."
"That is a little bit different from what I have managed to achieve
and where I am today," she commented.
Father Joseph Tham, L.C. "From Euthanasia to Infanticide."
National Catholic Register. (April 3-9, 2005).
This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic
Register. All rights reserved. To subscribe to the National
Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
Legionary Father Joseph Tham is a medical doctor and teaches at the
school of bioethics at the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome.
Copyright © 2005 National