The Groningen Protocol

I heard something frightening on Hugh Hewitt’s show yesterday. Low-key news coverage reveals that systematic euthanasia of children has begun in the Netherlands:

A hospital in the Netherlands – the first nation to permit euthanasia – recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives.

The Groningen Protocol, as the hospital’s guidelines have come to be known, would create a legal framework for permitting doctors to actively end the life of newborns deemed to be in similar pain from incurable disease or extreme deformities.
The guideline says euthanasia is acceptable when the child’s medical team and independent doctors agree the pain cannot be eased and there is no prospect for improvement, and when parents think it’s best.

I recoiled from this news as soon as I heard it, but some of you reading this are thinking “what’s the big deal?” Let me illustrate the big deal with a hypothetical situation.


Imagine you’re an enlightened, progressive person with thoroughly modern attitudes. Today’s the day that your long-awaited baby was born. You’ve spent a long day in the local hospital’s delivery room, and you’ve just watched your doctor rush your newborn daughter onto life support. The doctor says your daughter has Down Syndrome and severe spina bifida, and has fallen into a coma from which she might never recover. As you sit there shellshocked, your doctor asks for your permission to administer a lethal injection to your daughter. What do you do?
Now imagine a similar scenario, but leave out one factor … say, the spina bifida. It’s a bit tougher to make the call, isn’t it? Take away the coma too, and it gets even more difficult to give the go-ahead.
You could sketch out a diagram to visualize the factors informing your decision about your daughter. Euthanizing your sick dog’s much easier to do, since a pet’s not a person, so that dividing line is nice and sharp. But when you’re talking about your own daughter, I imagine there would need to be lots of very good overlapping reasons to allow you to rationalize killing her. If each reason were a circle, your thinking process might look something like this:

Venn diagram

Even the most highly educated and progressive-minded parents would have a hard time thinking clearly and making a decision they could live with. But there’s a twist in this hypothetical.
Now imagine that the decision whether or not to kill your daughter will be made by strangers. These government sanctioned strangers are bureaucrats, and no matter how high-minded their intentions may be in the beginning, we all know what eventually happens to bureaucracies. Bureaucrats strive to protect and expand their turf and their influence. They reduce everything to cold calculations about supplies and budgets and expenses. The interests of the people they’re supposedly serving disappear in the haze, and the high-ranking bureaucrats make sweeping policy decisions that they never have to implement themselves. Eventually, they see themselves as entitled to the power they wield, and woe to the lowly citizen who disagrees.
Do you think Dutch parents will always be involved in the decision to euthanize under the Groningen Protocol? Don’t be so sure.
Look again at the blurred areas in that diagram. Would you want some committee of functionaries who’ve never met you or your daughter deciding which part of the diagram she fits into, and whether that assignment gives them the power to have her killed? Maybe the very small grey area in the center is where it begins, but who’s to stop a government agency from smudging the lines that distingish between “killable” and “not killable”? Who’s to stop them from choosing different criteria that you disagree with? For that matter, what’s to stop them from blurring that solid black line at the outer edge of the diagram?
My progressive friends, can you at last begin to see why so many of us who believe in the sacredness of human life are so alarmed? When a society allows a person’s “quality of life” to become the criterion for deciding whether they deserve to live, then that society has crossed a terrifying frontier.

More analysis:

  • Hugh Hewitt rounds up some great posts on the Groningen Protocol, plus an e-mail from an American couple whose child would be dispatched routinely if they were Dutch citizens.
  • John Mark Reynolds gives three reasons why the Groningen Protocol is wrong, and argues that such policies prove that Dutch society can no longer sustain itself.
  • Mark D. Roberts tackles “quality of life” advocates, and refutes their claim that one cannot simultaneously favor both quality of life and sanctity of life.
  • Evangelical Outpost reminds us that Peter Singer has been pushing for this for years, while Francis Beckwith has been poking logical holes in Singer’s arguments for just as long.
  • David Limbaugh highlights the essential relationship between faith and freedom, and reminds Christians of their obligations in light of the Groningen Protocol.
  • Froggy Ruminations spins a hypothetical situation similar to mine, and focuses on how healthcare rationing would mix with secular humanism and liberal eugenic ideals.
  • Powerpundit relays the allegation that 31 percent of pediatricians in the Netherlands say that they have killed infants, and that one-fifth of those children were killed without the consent of their parents.
  • Sidesspot reminds us that not every slippery slope is a rhetorical device. This one’s real, and it has a chilling precedent.
  • Bogus Gold offers examples that support the slippery slope warnings.
  • Captain’s Quarters identifies aggrandizement of the state as the primary culprit here, and points out that America’s Founding Fathers planned for the onset of this kind of problem. The implication? We’d better get on the ball while we still can.
  • Wizbang notes that this kind of evil is driven by government bean counters, which reminds me of all the times I’ve heard the Holocaust described with phrases like “the banality of evil.” (UPDATE: another post here)
  • Stand To Reason has several pithy essays and tapes on euthanasia, written from both a Christian perspective and a soundly practical public policy perspective.
  • The International Task Force has been warning us about euthanasia for years. Will we finally listen?


UPDATE: Kudos to my local newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, for making this a front page story today.
UPDATE 2: If anybody sees a Groningen Protocol-related blog post on the left hemisphere of blogdom (specifically, one of the top 100 high-visibility lefty blogs), please let me know immediately … because I’m not finding any. Period.

This post has merged at high speed into today’s Beltway Traffic Jam.

20 comments

  1. Wizbang

    Begging for a Wizbanging

    Just over 24 hours ago I made the following statement: “And for future reference… Anyone using a Venn Diagram to make a political point gets an automatic link from me. (I always loved those things.)” So it came as little…

  2. David Limbaugh

    The Groningen Protocol

    The Netherlands is the first nation to permit euthanasia. One hospital there has proposed guidelines, now known as “The Groningen Protocol” on when terminally ill newborns may be killed. But, according to Brainshavings blog this hospital has already be…

  3. Oyster

    Take it from a parent who’s lost a baby. No one has the right to play God.

  4. Allan Yackey

    My view is that if anyone seriously proposes an idea like this, they must eliminate family members from the decision making process. Otherwise the program will be meaninglessly small.
    Here is why. (I will admit for starters that my personal experience may well not represent the rest of the world. However….)
    As an attorney I have drafted many health care powers of attorney and living wills. Generally these documents are done on behalf of people who have expressed the wish to be allowed to die if they are beyond hope. Again generally, they appoint a relative, (spouse, child, parent) as the person who will have to pull the plug.
    When the situation arises, the person with the power knows the wish of the ill person and frequently has assured that person that they will pull the plug. Even so, it rarely happens. The relative finds it so hard to do that they generally resist and often refuse, letting nature take its course.
    Therefore the supporters of this kind of program must eliminate the family members from the decision making process.

  5. Joe Grossberg

    A semantic nitpick:
    A particular person could be “very young” and “unconscious”, but neither ill nor retarded.
    Similarly, a patient can be “severely retarded” and “incurably ill”, while not fitting into the other categories.
    However, the diagram doesn’t show this.
    Ven diagrams, like yours, just don’t work with more than three circles.

  6. Puddle Pirate

    Oyster, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sure this news hits close to home. God Bless.
    Allan, you’re correct about the logistics; for any systematic involuntary euthanasia program to work, the government must have the authority to impose death over the objections of the victim’s relatives and friends (not to mention the victim’s own wishes). But I’m bothered by what strikes me as your untroubled attitude. Since you’ve seen with your own eyes the almost universal aversion to death and “letting people die”, doesn’t it indicate to you that there’s probably an absolute moral standard involved here? Incidentally, I have a durable power of attorney for health care on file (mine’s called a Protective Medical Decisions Document).
    Joe, I realize that, but I had to make some sacrifices in the diagram because it’s hard to escape Flatland on the web. Know of any good Venn sphere-rendering programs?

  7. applesweet

    Once the precedence develops and is absorbed by the human mind, it’s near impossible to undo.
    That there is a large group willing to kill off their own kind’s future is chilling. A groupmind suicidal effect.
    I call this the ‘lemming effect’.
    And the utilitarian coldness is frightening and so evil, it chills clear to the bone.
    May G-d have mercy on them all. And as was said,
    “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

  8. Mark Sides

    Great post and extended discussion. I wonder when enough will be enough for progressives on this issue?
    Thanks also for the ping.
    Mark S.

  9. Puddle Pirate

    Mark, your post deserves to be read. The ping was a no-brainer. As for when the progressives will stop toying with this kind of evil, apparently the answer is “never.” If the Holocaust wasn’t warning enough, then nothing is.
    But then, I’m not really surprised.

  10. Mark Sides

    Yes, that (Romans 3 (and 2)) is the one certainty, isn’t it? I posted a note on your post but the trackback is not showing up above.
    Mark S.

  11. deadscot

    I’m not sure what all the outrage is about. I think this sort of policy should be adopted globally.
    You have parents, working with doctors to determine the best wishes of the infant. It’s not as if they’re going to systematically start euthanizing every severally retarded child that is born. From the language of the proposal, it seems fairly clear that the parents would be able to keep and raise a severally retarded and/or deformed child if they wished to do so.
    This proposal will just make it legal to do what should have been happening all along. Why make the parents watch their child suffer for weeks on end to finally watch them die? That’s torture. You make it sound that if the parents don’t get the package they want they’ll just discard of it. John already pointed out the flawed logic there. This is one of the more humane health proposals I’ve seen come about in a long time. Hopefully programs such as this will catch on in the US and we can take one step closer to being a more humane society.

  12. Mark Sides

    Deadscot, I don’t think it’s the inentions that are being questioned here. What’s being questioned is the ability of humans to draw meaningful lines in these scenarios. Add to that the pressures of the bureaucratic state that Puddle Pirate and others have listed, and this becomes very problematic.
    This isn’t humane, it’s one human substituting his or her judgment for another’s, during a time in which the people making decisions are either extremely emotional (parents) or conflicted (doctors and hospital administrators).

  13. Puddle Pirate

    The Dead Scotsman said:
    You have parents, working with doctors to determine the best wishes of the infant. It’s not as if they’re going to systematically start euthanizing every severally retarded child that is born. From the language of the proposal, it seems fairly clear that the parents would be able to keep and raise a severally retarded and/or deformed child if they wished to do so.
    The Dutch doctors have no obligation to consult with the parents, and the parents don’t have any official say in the matter. The doctors certainly can kill every baby with “severe” retardation (as defined by them):

    It took the Dutch almost 30 years for their medical practices to fall to the point that Dutch doctors are able to engage in the kind of euthanasia activities that got some German doctors hanged after Nuremberg. For those who object to this assertion by claiming that German doctors killed disabled babies during World War II without consent of parents, so too do many Dutch doctors: Approximately 21 percent of the infant euthanasia deaths occurred without request or consent of parents.
    — Wesley J. Smith

    These doctors can kill your baby against your wishes if they deem it justified. Do you still want to universalize this policy?
    Further, where did you get the idea that parents have the moral right to kill their children?

  14. deadscot

    Further, where did you get the idea that parents have the moral right to kill their children?

    I guess it originally came from the bible (http://www.elroy.net/ehr/abortion.html) back in my days in church. Now it’s more of a scientific understanding.
    We’re talking about infants, not some child the parents have had for a few years and wish to discard. Although, I believe that everyone should be privy to euthanasia if their medical condition warrants it.
    I do disagree with the Dutch in that they appear to be making some of these decisions without consent from the parents. Aside from that I do feel that this would be a good and humane global policy.

    This isn’t humane, it’s one human substituting his or her judgment for another’s, during a time in which the people making decisions are either extremely emotional (parents) or conflicted (doctors and hospital administrators).

    Actually, by definition, it is quite humane. Until a child is of a certain age and mental capacity, parents are responsible for substituting their judgment for the child’s judgment, or lack thereof.

  15. Chet

    I’ll be frank about my feelings and the feelings of my wife on this. We don’t want a retard kid. We have better things planned for our genes than that. And who would want to adopt such a child? I wouldn’t want to take the chance that we wouldn’t be able to find a willing adopter.
    Hopefuly we’ll never have to euthanize an unfit infant. With luck we’ll be able to detect and abort long before that. But it should certainly be our decision and not the government’s, so I too am nervous about government-mandated euthanasia.

  16. Puddle Pirate

    We don’t want a retard kid. We have better things planned for our genes than that.

    Spoken like a eugenicist.

    And who would want to adopt such a child? I wouldn’t want to take the chance that we wouldn’t be able to find a willing adopter.

    Yup, there’s no demand for children with Down Syndrome. That’s the ticket. Silly me.

    Hopefuly we’ll never have to euthanize an unfit infant. With luck we’ll be able to detect and abort long before that.

    How happy you’ll be when our brave new world develops prenatal genetic screening for nearsighted babies. Or short babies. Or those with brown eyes or an IQ under 150 or left-handedness.

    But it should certainly be our decision and not the government’s, so I too am nervous about government-mandated euthanasia.

    Why does it matter who does the killing? You’re OK with infant euthanasia, and the doctors know more about birth defects and societal burdens than you do. Who are you to stand in the way of genetic progress?

  17. Frank H

    In your post, you refer to your daughter. I hope you don’t mean to infer that if it was your son that you would feel more disposed to disposing of him.

  18. Puddle Pirate

    No, Frank, I don’t. Did you read what I wrote? After all that argument against euthanasia and in favor of the sacredness of life, you suspect I might be in favor of killing boys but not girls? Amazing.
    For the sake of clear communication I decided to choose either “son” or “daughter” for my hypothetical situation, because constantly repeating “son/daughter” and “him/her” sounds awkward. I arbitrarily chose “daughter” this time, but next time I’ll try to remember to use “son.”
    *sigh*

  19. Chet

    Why does it matter who does the killing?
    You tell me. You favor the death penalty; does it matter to you if it’s administered via judicial process, or by roving bands of vigilantes?
    But, yeah. I am a eugenicist; it’s a natural consequence of familiarity with biology. Don’t wave it around like it’s a dirty word; it’s not. Yeah, yeah. Let me anticipate your next argument – Nazis. Well, I’m sure the Nazis liked coffee, too. Does that mean we all have to drink tea?

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