In late 2000, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia. Under the law, passed by the lower house of the Dutch Parliament 104-40, a child as young as 12 can request to be put to death, provided he has at least one parent’s consent.
In 1999 alone, according to the Associated Press (July 13, 2000), 2,216 Netherlanders died from euthanasia or “physician-assisted suicide,” usually through lethal injection. The new law simply formalized the guidelines that had been in place since 1994, requiring that patients must be suffering unbearable pain, be told of all available options, and make the request to die of their own accord, unprompted by a doctor. Doctors must also obtain a second opinion and report each case.
The NVVE (Nederlandse Vereniging voor een Vrijwillig Levenseinde, the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society) boldly proclaimed that the new law would be a step toward public acceptance of the “right to die”—not just for patients at late stages of serious illness but for anyone who expected “not to be able to die [in a] dignified [manner].” The society argued that it was simply defending a “human basic right—if you can choose what kind of house you’re going to live in and things like that, why can you not choose what death? It’s an individual choice . . . your life.”
Even without resorting to religious or philosophical tenets and convictions, this argument can be easily rebutted by common sense and experience. If we accept that individual choice and autonomy has been elevated above all other values, where are we going to place the goalposts? And who will decide? Once the right to life is placed in jeopardy, all kinds of abuses ensue, as the abortion saga has amply shown.
The alleged “right to die with dignity” has become the “right to be killed.” Euthanasia advocates are demanding that doctors become killers, transforming those who save life into dispensers of death. And this is precisely what is happening in the Netherlands, where the distinction between stopping useless medical treatment and the administering of lethal injections is being blurred by the promoters of euthanasia.
This distinction is very important. If a patient has advanced cancer, he does not have to undergo painful operations that are not really going to prolong life. He can say: “I have had enough, the medical treatment or operations must cease.” And medical personnel can then give the patient only food and water and pain-relief treatment. Euthanasia, however, is not letting a patient die but killing a patient who is not dying—or is not dying on the timetable those who anticipate his death would prefer.
Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in a number of cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands, death had not always occurred in a dignified manner. The journal cited instances of vomiting and convulsions, a lengthy interval between the administration of the lethal drug and death, failure to induce a coma, and patients awakening out of an induced coma.
Once euthanasia is legalized, even in limited circumstances, the practice soon spreads. The “right to be killed” will quickly become the “duty to die”—especially in the case of older people, who feel that they are a burden on their families or on the national health service. And today, infants are often thought to be a burden in the Netherlands: As many as eight percent of infant deaths have been reported to be infanticides performed by medical staff.
On average, according to a December 21, 2004, report in the Guardian, once a month somewhere in the Netherlands, a doctor injects a newborn baby with a lethal cocktail of morphine and sedatives. Within a few hours, the baby is dead. The agonizing decision is often made because the newborn has a life-threatening illness or disability with little or no prospect of successful treatment or recovery. Routinely, the killings are carried out in secret, and the cause of death is covered up. Death certificates are falsified in order to render the doctors immune to prosecution for murder.
The Groningen Academic Hospital admitted to engaging in such practices with three babies in 2003. This is the very hospital that spearheaded the cause of euthanasia by striking, last fall, an accord with the judiciary that its doctors would not be prosecuted and asking the Dutch government to approve guidelines legalizing euthanasia of newborns enduring “unbearable suffering” and with “no hope of a future.” A health-ministry official has said that the government is expected to present a relevant bill to parliament in early 2005. This bill is also being supported by the Netherlands’ eight teaching hospitals. Ten to 15 cases of child euthanasia occur in the Netherlands each year, and there are an estimated 600 instances worldwide.
On December 10, Groningen pediatrics chief Dr. A. Verhagen attempted to justify this legislation, stating that the law is merely aimed at bringing into the open a practice that is already being conducted in secret. “Worldwide, the U.S. included, many deaths among newborns are based on end-of-life decisions, after physicians reached the conclusion that there was no quality of life,” Verhagen claimed.
It is in the interest of newborns who have to endure unbearable suffering that we draw up a nationwide protocol that allows each pediatrician to treat this delicate question with due care, knowing that he followed the criteria.
“[Y]ou should never aim to kill a person. That’s the bottom line,” responded Bert Dorenbos, the leader of Dutch pro-life group Cry for Life. He argued that the Dutch euthanasia laws have served primarily to protect doctors from prosecution rather than to safeguard the interests of children. The “Groningen protocol” for child euthanasia establishes a five-part test to help doctors avoid possible prosecution until a suitable law can be passed. The five conditions to be met are severe suffering; no available treatment or surgery; the consent of the parents; a second opinion by an independent committee of doctors; and a “meticulously carried out” termination of life. Outside of these boundaries, a doctor who terminated the life of a very ill newborn, even at the request of his parents, would still run the risk of prosecution.
The establishment of “independent committees” to dispatch unwilling humans is nothing but a death-penalty committee for innocents, claims Earl Edwin Appleby, Jr., director of the U.S.-based Citizens United Resisting Euthanasia, a group in the forefront of the fight against epivalothanasia (imposed death). “Once begun, it is impossible—simply impossible—to limit the concept with any bright line,” he contends.
If the “severely retarded” may be killed upon appropriate motion, second, debate, and majority vote, why not the moderately retarded? Why not the mildly retarded? Why not, in fact, anyone the “independent Committee” deems as usefully dispatched?
Italian judge Giuseppe Ananzi argues that this unholy alliance between Dutch prosecutors and doctors makes a mockery of the rule of law. “It is a reflection of a law-unabiding attitude and complicity which devastates the very concept of judicial dispensation.”
In a conversation we had years ago, Babette Francis, a prominent Catholic pro-life leader from Australia, recalled having met at an international conference a chief public prosecutor from the Netherlands who was also the president of the NVVE. She questioned him about the 1993 Remmelink report by the Dutch government, which showed that a very high percentage of the victims of euthanasia in the Netherlands had not requested it: They were simply murdered. “How do you explain this?” she challenged him. He refused to answer, simply saying, “Oh, it’ll take too long to explain!”
In his very interesting talk, this prosecutor said that, although euthanasia was theoretically illegal in the Netherlands, officials refused to prosecute if certain safeguards and codes were followed. In fact, he added, only one or two cases had ever been prosecuted, and they never really came to the higher court. And then he revealed that he, while president of the NVVE, was a chief prosecutor who decided which cases were going to be investigated. “This is the most obvious conflict of interest that I could think of,” Mrs. Francis told me. “No wonder, then, that so few cases in the Netherlands are prosecuted.”
Bishop Elio Sgreccia of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life likened child euthanasia to the Nazis’ mass murder of 70,000 physically and mentally disabled under the euphemism of euthanasia. The Vatican accusations, in turn, caused great distress to the pediatricians who argue that these end-of-life decisions should be properly examined and not practiced in the dark.
The Netherlands, once a victim of Nazi occupation, has now turned into a Nazi-style victimizer nation, implementing antilife measures at the expense of her own infants, the most defenseless victims of the culture of death. The Allies liberated Holland in 1945. Who will free the victims of today’s crimes against humanity in the Netherlands?