Thursday, September 23, 2021

Belgium: Euthanasia of Newborns Practiced Outside the Law

This article was published by the European Institute of Bioethics on June 6, 2021.

10% of newborn deaths in Flanders Belgium are euthanasia.
A recent study has brought to light the practice of deliberate euthanasia to newborns for whom the medical team considered that there was "no hope of a bearable future". These practices concerned 10% of the neonates (0-1 year) who died in Flanders, between September 2016 and December 2017 (i. e., 24 babies).

This practice is illegal in Belgium, yet no authority seems to take offense. The law only allows the euthanasia of a minor if he or she is capable of discernment and conscious at the time of the request for euthanasia.

In her thesis, which served as the basis for the study in question, Laure Dombrecht, researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), refers to a similar study conducted in 1999-2000. The proportion of euthanasia to new-borns by injection of lethal substances has increased from 7 to 10% since this previous survey.

Among what is considered as "end-of-life medical decisions" involving 61% of these babies, the study distinguishes between decisions not to start or to stop "life-sustaining treatment" (e.g. ventilator), on the one hand, and the administration of certain substances to the baby, on the other hand. Note that the term euthanasia does not appear anywhere in the article.

In terms of the physician's intentions, the study distinguishes three situations. 

In the first scenario, the physician does not intend to cause or hasten the baby's death, but considers the potential effect of hastening death (e.g., decision not to administer antibiotics, administration of morphine or sedatives). 

The second scenario consists in the situation where the potential effect of hastening death is not the primary goal but is partly aimed at by the physician. 

The third scenario is that in which the physician explicitly intends to cause death (e.g., injection of a lethal muscle relaxant).

While the ethical considerations on the medical decision differ substantively depending on whether it refers to the first or second scenario (death not intended vs. intended death), the study classifies the cases neither according to these two categories of intention, nor referring to the withholding/withdrawing distinction, nor underlining the relevant moral factor actively administering substances. The criterion of proportionality (in withdrawing treatment or in the dosage of substances) is not mentioned either, even though it is decisive for judging the physician's intention.

Doctors who euthanized newborns with lethal injection indicated in 91% of the cases that the main reason for their action was that there was no hope of a "bearable future" for the child. In other words, these children had a real chance of survival, but the medical team - no doubt in agreement with their parents - considered that their lives were not worth living to the end.

Why do practitioners deviate from the legal framework when it comes to children who are unable to express themselves?

The authors of the study raise the question of the need for a framework for this "practice", similar to the paralegal framework established in the Netherlands through the Gröningen Protocol. Such a "framework" would in fact mean conditional authorization of physician infanticide.

4 comments:

TL said...

The people (medical professionals and family members) who make the decision to off an infant do so in a cloud of human corruptibility. No hope of a bearable future for one social context might mean that a baby born blind, deaf, missing a limb or in need of life-long financial support might be considered to be facing an unbearable future. In such a case, society (medical professionals and family members) makes a cold, heartless decision to kill rather than to accept the challenge and burden of loving. Do we want to live in a world that prefers killing to loving?

Maureen said...

What a tragedy Its deliberate murder!!! How do these doctors know that these children may have an unbearable future..They are NOT God! And they do make mistakes!!

Mountain Grandma said...

Lebensunwertes Leben

Sharon Metro said...

When abortion became legalized worldwide, even in countries that previously banned the practice (i.e. Ireland) this became inevitable. Here in the U.S. in my own home state of Virginia, the current (soon to be at end of his term-YAY!) Dr. Ralph Northam, a former PEDIATRIC NEUROLOGIST defended the position to not assist a struggling newborn infant IF the parents agree to same. That one comment put him on MY shite list, even more than his "blackface" adventures earlier in life when his excuse for ignorance could be overlooked.. He represents, of course, the party in the USA that even enthusiastically supports abortion, at ALL stages, and now, apparently, even after birth if not prevented by law, one of many reasons why I, as an Independent voter in the USA, will not vote for a single one of them... There may well be a more eloquent quote somewhere on the subject, but, without ethics or morals, what was unthinkable yesterday can, and usually does become acceptable today or tomorrow. Human nature has not changed...