HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, July 1, 2005

Euthanasia in the Netherlands: A New Perspective

Stephen Drake, a research analyst with the Not Dead Yet organization has an article in the current issue of the Hastings Center Report.  According to Drake, his article provides a significantly different analysis of euthanasia in the Netherlands and the motivations behind the proposals than what usually appears in bioethics journals.  His article states,

However, there is significant evidence that at least some medical professionals in the United States would embrace legalization of infanticide based on disability. It wasn't that long ago that passive euthanasia of infants with Downs Syndrome and spina bifida was an accepted practice here, and it's still unclear to what extent the practice persists.

The sentiment for facilitating the deaths of infants with disabilities is evident in numerous research studies. For example, in 2001, Streiner and colleagues published a study in Pediatrics comparing the attitudes of parents and health care professionals in "quality of life" assessments of premature infants. The study found that neonatologists and neonatal nurses were both more pessimistic about pediatric outcomes, and also more likely to judge death to be the best outcome, than were the parents or siblings of the same children. This study, conducted in Canada, is consistent with earlier U.S. studies that have demonstrated a bias on the part of medical professionals in devaluing the lives of infants with severe disabilities. No one should mistake this bias for anything other than what it is ­ an over-valuation of physical and mental norms, which is bigotry.

That prejudice is often mistaken for objectivity in bioethics discussions. It's one reason most public discussion of euthanasia is tainted by misinformation. For example, the Associated Press story on the Groningen protocol misinformed readers that the protocol applied to "euthanizing terminally ill newborns." This is a gross distortion: Verhagen and Sauer made no attempt to hide that they were talking about newborns with "serious medical conditions."

It's both puzzling and disturbing that this misinformation was met with total silence from the bioethics community. You would think that bioethicists, eager to claim expertise and promising to bring clarity to public debates, would have jumped all over the Associated Press report. This silence reinforces the cynical view that the righteous anger bioethicists express at outspoken disability advocates has less to do with providing clarity than protecting turf.

The entire article is worth a read  as it makes us reflect on how we view the disabled in our society.  To access the article in pdf format, please click here.  You may also find the article in html format here.  [bm]

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