In the wake of news that a Dutch hospital has written a protocol to allow the involuntary euthanasia of children, one of the authors has defended his policy. Dr Eduard Verhagen, of Groningen University Hospital, told the Spanish newspaper ABC that about 20 children are euthanased each year already, even though this is officially against the law. Of these, only two or three are reported to a local coroner. Under the new guidelines, which were developed in concert with the Ministry of Justice, doctors are to report all cases of child euthanasia and the government will process them as quickly as possible. This will give doctors reassurance that they will not be accused of murder. Ultimately, says Dr Verhagen, his goal is to see child euthanasia after consultation with an expert committee legalised.
Why is this necessary? Children suffer as much as adults, answers Dr Verhagen, and should enjoy the same benefits offered by Dutch law to adults. “Parents already have legal authority to decide everything for a child, bar one — life and death. Here we are faced with a problem which has no solution: a child who is suffering terribly, even more than an adult; the doctors can do nothing to alleviate it and the child cannot express himself legally. What should we do?”
The Dutch Paediatric Society believes that authorising involuntary child euthanasia will be less threatening for doctors and will motivate them to report what is currently a very secretive practice. With greater transparency, it believes, it will be possible to implement external supervision.
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