door mgr. E. Sgreccia, Pauselijke Academie voor het Leven
Legalizing euthanasia for children in the Netherlands. The last restriction overcome.
It has not been possible thus far to locate the text of the protocol describing the agreement made by the University Clinic of Groningen in The Netherlands and the Dutch judicial Authorities concerning the extension of euthanasia to children under the age of 12 and even at birth. This protocol, according to press reports attributed to Dr Edward Verhagen, director of the clinic mentioned, establishes “extremely strictly, step by step, the procedures that doctors are obliged to follow” when dealing with the problem of “freeing from pain” children (within the above-mentioned age group) who are seriously ill by subjecting them to euthanasia.
A law passed by the Dutch Parliament on 1 April 2002 had already provided for help in dying (“assisted suicide”), not only for sick adults who make “an explicit, logical and repeated” request for it and young people between the ages of 16 to 18 who submit a written request (art. 3, sect. 2 of the law), but also for adolescents capable of consent from 12 to 16 years of age, on condition that their parents or legal guardian add their consent to the personal request of those affected by incurable disease or pain (art. 4, sect. 2).
Now, in Holland, with this latest medical-juridical agreement, a boundary prescribed by the Helsinki Code and thus far prohibited even for clinical experimentation has also been crossed: euthanasia is permitted – according to the news published which, unfortunately, we are bound to accept as well-founded – also for children under age 12, including newborn infants, for whom it is of course impossible to speak of valid consent. For this age group, as mentioned, clinical experimentation continues to be prohibited throughout the world because of the risk, however minimal, to the subject that is always involved; nor is it possible to depart from this norm with the consent of the parents or guardians, except in the case that such experimentation will be of benefit to the life or health of the subject on whom it is carried out.
Recent events in The Netherlands have gone far beyond the ethical norms concerning clinical experimentation, inspired by the principles proclaimed after the Nuremberg Trials. In fact, the medical-judiciary agreement allows for access to euthanasia as long as the consent of the parents and the opinion of the doctor treating the patient and – as rumour has it – of a possibly “independent” doctor have been obtained.
Here it is not a question of “helping someone to die” or of “assisted suicide” but of death inflicted “to release from pain”, in other words, euthanasia true and proper. The observations this gives rise to are many and deeply disconcerting, particularly on the moral plane.
The slippery slope
It is easy to see how the law of the “slippery slope” functions: once the legitimacy had been recognized of inducing death out of pity for the lucid adult who has made an explicit, repeated and documented request for it, its application was then extended to young people, to adolescents with the consent of their parents or guardians, and in the end, also to children and newborn infants, obviously without their consent.
It is also easy to foresee that people will slide further down the slippery slope of euthanasia in years to come, until adult patients deemed incapable of being asked for their consent are included, such as, for example, the mentally ill or those in a persistent coma or so-called vegetative state.
It is said that in any case there is always a judge who can monitor abuses and punish the physician who might violate the norms, but to what can the judge appeal when the norm removes all grounds for the definition of the abuse itself?
It is also said that the argument of the slippery slope is a weak one: in my opinion, however, it shows that its perverse efficiency functions unavoidably because it implies the absence of absolute values that are to be upheld and is accompanied by an obvious moral relativism. It functions in the context of euthanasia as in various other fields of public ethics, regardless of whether it is a question of abortion (in this case, one begins with the case of anencephaly and ends up with the case of the child conceived before a holiday), or a matter of procreation (here, the first step is the request for the legalization of the homologous insemination, that ends up with the matter of the authorization of therapeutic cloning).
Once on the slippery slope, not only the logical slant comes into play but also economic interests, and then the slipperiness becomes fatal and inexorable.