Thursday, March 10, 2005
Today's New York Times has a story about a Dutch proposal, called the Groningen protocol, that would permit physicians in the Netherlands to end the lives of "babies born into lives of grievous suffering." The two doctors who support the protocal, Drs.Eduard Verhagen and Pieter J. J. Sauer, have written an article in the New England Journal of Medicine to explain their guidelines and reasoning. The Times reports the doctors and their opponents as saying,
"We are convinced that life-ending measures can be acceptable in these cases under very strict conditions," the authors wrote. Those conditions include the full and informed consent of the parents, the agreement of a team of physicians, and a subsequent review of each case by "an outside legal body" to determine whether the decision was justified and all procedures had been followed.
Stephen Drake, a research analyst at Not Dead Yet, an organization based in the United States that views euthanasia and assisted suicide as threats to people with disabilities, said "there's nothing surprising about the medical profession wanting to formalize and legitimize practices that have wide acceptance in the medical community worldwide," and added, "Obviously, we're against that." The Groningen protocol, he said, is based on "singling out infants based on somebody else's assessment of their quality of life."
This proposal is quite obviously controversial. I do believe it is healthy, however, to discuss what doctors are already doing in these cases so that everyone can gain a better understanding of some of the difficult moral and medical decisions that are made when babies are born into a short life of extreme suffering. Also, this proposal may start a debate about some additions to the medical school curriculum - perhaps a class to help future physicians understand the lives of those with severe disabilities so that decisions about an infant;s quality of life can be made (with parents and others) on a more informed basis.[bm]