The Dutch government is preparing to legalize euthanasia for children between the ages of one and twelve.
Last year, the Dutch Ministry of Health commissioned a report from the NVK (Dutch Society of Pediatrics), which recommended the government permit euthanasia for terminally ill children of one to twelve years of age. The report included a survey of 72 doctors employed at prominent hospitals specializing in medical training. The majority stated that it is morally acceptable to euthanize preteen children who are suffering without prospect of improvement if their parents request it. Many surveyed parents also supported the proposal. This week, Hugo de Jonge, Dutch health minister and deputy prime minister, informed the Dutch Parliament that the government will be moving forward to draft and implement legislation for the new regulations proposed in the report.
When parliament reviewed this report in 2019, a majority of MPs supported the recommendation. But at the time, de Jonge stated that the cabinet needed time to respond.
Children under the age of one with a terminal prognosis can already be euthanized in the Netherlands under the 2004 Groningen Protocol, which one journal described as an attempt “to regulate the practice of actively ending the life of newborns and to prevent uncontrolled and unjustified killing.” Children between the ages of twelve and fifteen can request euthanasia but must have the permission of their parents. Teenagers of sixteen or seventeen are required to inform their parents if they request euthanasia.
The Dutch government is now moving to make it legal for children between the ages of one and twelve. Dutch law currently does not permit this, although the horrifying (and often lengthy) process of ending a life by withholding nutrition is sometimes allowed. Euthanizing infants is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but the Groningen Protocol has served as a devil’s bargain between medical professionals and prosecutors. If doctors follow the Groningen Protocol when they kill an infant, prosecutors do not file charges.
De Jonge’s briefing cited medical experts asking for legal protections for the killing of preteen children in specific circumstances: “The NVK believes an extension of existing [Committee Regulations] regarding late termination of pregnancy and termination of life in newborns . . . to be the appropriate step to meet the identified need from practice and provide physicians with the desired legal protection.”
De Jonge claims that this proposal does not technically constitute an expansion of the law. He instead seeks to carve out a legal exception (like the Groningen Protocol) to ensure that doctors performing child euthanasia will not face criminal prosecution. He also informed MPs that he will work with both medical professionals and the public prosecution service on this.
The proposal has created a minor political firestorm. The current government coalition has served as the cabinet of the Netherlands since October 2017 and includes several political parties. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the Democrats 66 (D66) favor the proposal. The VVD has been pushing for the expansion of child euthanasia for several years already. The Christian Union Party (CU), a pro-life party, is thus far opposed.
Dutch media outlets are reporting that a formal cabinet proposal will easily command majority support in the House of Representatives, with MPs from at least six political parties in favor. Vocal Christian parliamentarians such as Kees van der Staaij, leader of the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP), the oldest political party in the Netherlands, will be sure to oppose this move. Despite this opposition, it appears that Dutch doctors will soon be able to kill children that they and parents believe are eligible for euthanasia.
Note that the Dutch euthanasia regime, with the Groningen Protocol as well as the new proposal, has completely dispensed with the standard hitherto used by assisted suicide activists in most Western countries. Activists argue that consent and the right to bodily autonomy justify so-called “end-of-life care”—but by expanding these deadly services to infants and children, euthanasia advocates have abandoned that pretense. A one-year-old infant cannot choose to die, and children legally barred from voting, consuming alcohol, or driving cannot understand what the offer of a quick and painless death really means.
When a doctor gives a lethal injection to a suffering infant, regardless of his motivation, he is killing that child; he and other adults have decided that child is better off dead. We used to understand how wrong that is. The Dutch government—and medical professionals tasked with the preservation of life—appear to have forgotten.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist.