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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.

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