NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 11, 2005

Dutch physicians do not report four out of five euthanasia procedures performed on terminally ill infants to authorities, despite protocols to encourage the practice, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands reviewed records of euthanasia cases from Dutch district attorneys and examined national surveys of Dutch physicians.

According to the researchers:

  • Dutch physicians reported a total of 22 cases of euthanasia procedures performed on infants to authorities between 1997 and 2004, although surveys indicate that they performed 15 to 20 such procedures each year.
  • Some 73 percent of physicians in France have performed euthanasia procedures on infants, although the cases are not reported to authorities.
  • Between 2 and 4 percent of physicians in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany and Sweden have reported that they performed such procedures.

Some U.S. physicians and ethicists said that some cases of euthanasia procedures performed on infants exist in the United States, although "it is much more common, and accepted, to withhold or stop intensive treatment and let the baby die," the Associated Press/Chicago Sun-Times reports.

According to the researchers, all cases must be reported if the country is to prevent uncontrolled and unjustified euthanasia. Indeed, the report likely will prompt discussions about euthanasia procedures performed on terminally ill infants but "won't change public opinion or practices" in the United States, say observers.

Rita Marker, executive director of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, which opposes euthanasia procedures for infants, said, "If we transferred the Netherlands experience to the United States, we would see even more abuses" of patients' rights.

Source: Eduard Verhagen and Pieter J.J. Sauer, "The Groningen Protocol -- Euthanasia in Severely Ill Newborns," New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 352:959-962, No. 10, March 10, 2005; and Linda Johnson, "Study: Newborn Euthanasia Goes Unreported in Holland," Chicago Sun-Times, March 10, 2005.

For free NEJM text:


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