Managed death care

Pundits belittled Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop in the 1980s, when their book and film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race? predicted that euthanasia and infanticide were the logical companions of unrestricted abortion.

When Ronald Reagan nominated Koop as surgeon general, Elisa Isaacson wrote in The New Republic, "Dozens of newspapers and national organizations oppose Koop on the basis of his doctrinaire anti-abortion stance, his backward views on women's and gays' rights, and particularly his inexperience in the field of public health." (This was before Koop won over all but his most vociferous critics with his stances on AIDS, condoms and smoking.)

Now the Netherlands seems hell-bent on proving that Schaeffer and Koop were connecting the ethical dots, albeit a few decades before euthanasia and infanticide were mentioned regularly in the same sentence as "dignity," "compassion" or "mental retardation."

Toby Sterling of the Associated Press delivers the grim news in his terse opening:

AMSTERDAM, 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 practice is beginning with the hardest cases of suffering infants:

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.

Examples include extremely premature births, where children suffer brain damage from bleeding and convulsions; and diseases where a child could only survive on life support for the rest of its life, such as severe cases of spina bifida and epidermosis bullosa, a rare blistering illness.

But there are the standard voices arguing that if a culture is going to kill babies, at least the killing should be supervised by the state:

"As things are, people are doing this secretly and that's wrong," said Eduard Verhagen, head of Groningen's children's clinic. "In the Netherlands we want to expose everything, to let everything be subjected to vetting."

To see where such vetting may take a culture, consult P.D. James' dystopian novel, The Children of Men: in a world rendered sterile by an unexplained catastrophe, old people begin killing themselves in despair. The state begins supervising those suicides so everything will be orderly, clinical and tidy -- and before you can say "I'd like to join the Hemlock Society," euthanasia becomes mandatory.

Sterling gives the prolife movement's concerns a few mentions, including this remark from Wesley J. Smith: "The slippery slope in the Netherlands has descended already into a vertical cliff."

But he closes with another "Let's end the hypocrisy" argument:

"Measures that might marginally extend a child's life by minutes or hours or days or weeks are stopped. This happens routinely, namely, every day," said Lance Stell, professor of medical ethics at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., and staff ethicist at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. "Everybody knows that it happens, but there's a lot of hypocrisy. Instead, people talk about things they're not going to do."

More than half of all deaths occur under medical supervision, so it's really about management and method of death, Stell said.

Well, that's a relief.

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