Why Dutch doctors are reporting fewer euthanised infants

Michael Cook
15 Aug 2015
Reproduced with Permission

Doctors in the Netherlands are permitted to give infants under 1 year a lethal injection if it has a low life expectancy and is suffering. The precise conditions for this controversial act are contained in the Groningen Protocol. This was drafted in 2004 and approved by the Dutch government. In some circles, this has become notorious, a symbol of the Dutch "culture of death".

But according to a report in the Journal of Medical Ethics , it turns out that lethal injections are very uncommon and that the protocol is rarely invoked. Between 1997 and 2004, there were 22 such cases, all of them involving spinal bifida. Between 2007 and 2010, however, there was only one case -- for a rare skin condition.

With all the hullabaloo over the Groningen Protocol, why is it so rarely invoked? The study suggests two reasons. First, doctors may be falsifying their reports, or, to put it more charitably, have a different perception of what constitutes deliberately ending life. The study cites two cases of very sick infants. In one the doctor used a barbiturate and withdrew treatment; in the other, the doctor used morphine to induce "terminal sedation" and withdrew treatment. Both were reported as natural deaths.

The second is that in 2007 the Netherland began offering ultrasound imaging at 20 weeks for pregnant women as a routine prenatal screening procedure. This allowed the mother to abort the child if it suffered from spinal bifida or chromosomal defects. Most women chose abortion for the former and about half for the latter. Those who do not abort the child are unlikely to request a lethal injection after birth. So, the authors observe, "The moment of deciding to end a child's life is shifted to pregnancy."