No prosecution for Dutch baby euthanasia - study


Dutch doctors have ended the lives of babies born with disabilities but have not been charged despite euthanasia being illegal for children, a study said today.

The study, published in the latest edition of the Dutch Journal of Medicine, found doctors had reported 22 cases between 1997 and 2004 of euthanasia of babies with spina bifida, a disabling birth defect affecting the spinal column. Dutch prosecutors dismissed all cases after judicial reviews, the journal said in a summary on its website.

Dutch media said the study showed prosecutors had decided against charging doctors as long as four unofficial rules were met.

The criteria for baby euthanasia were that the newborn had no chance of survival and was suffering unbearably, the doctor had to consult at least one other, the parents had to agree and the life must be ended in the correct medical way.

Mr Eduard Verhagen, paediatrician at the Groningen University Medical Centre and one of the authors of the study, told De Volkskrant newspaper he hoped to encourage doctors to report such cases without fear of prosecution.

"The babies are there but we were never allowed to talk about them. That must change. If we take this awfully difficult decision, it must happen with complete openness," he said.

"You are trained to save the life of a child but with these children the suffering can only be stopped by ending their lives. It takes courage to do that." Another survey has suggested Dutch doctors end the lives of about 15 to 20 disabled newborns a year but most go unreported.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalise euthanasia. But doctors must obey strict rules. Patients must face a future of unbearable suffering and make a voluntary, well-considered request to die. Doctor and patient must be convinced there is no other solution.

A second doctor must be consulted and life ended in a medically appropriate way. Mr Verhagen's openness about euthanasia has drawn fierce criticism from abroad in the last year, with top-rated US cable network Fox News equating "baby killing" in The Netherlands with the Nazi murder of Jewish diarist Anne Frank.