Over the decades, Dutch doctors “progressed” from euthanizing the terminally ill who ask for it, to the chronically ill who ask for it, to people with disabilities who ask for it, to the mentally ill who ask for it, and even to people with dementia who are unable to ask for it (as long as they left written instructions requesting it).
Once a society accepts the noxious notion that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering, the definition of “suffering” never stops expanding.
The history of euthanasia in the Netherlands proves that maxim. The Dutch have allowed doctors to kill sick patients since the ’70s, taking an approach of quasi-decriminalization. Euthanasia was formally legalized in 2002. Over the decades, Dutch doctors “progressed” from euthanizing the terminally ill who ask for it, to the chronically ill who ask for it, to people with disabilities who ask for it, to the mentally ill who ask for it, and even to people with dementia who are unable to ask for it (as long as they left written instructions requesting it). The Dutch have also conjoined euthanasia with organ donation, creating a utilitarian impetus for lethal injection for both despairing patients and society. There have even been joint euthanasia killings of elderly couples who don’t want to experience the grief of widowhood.
Now the country is getting ready to allow little children to be euthanized. When euthanasia was first legalized, 16 was the age limit. Later, it was lowered to 12. Now, the government is proposing legislation that will allow pediatric euthanasia starting at age 1. From the NL Times story:
For the children referenced in the new policy, doctors are only allowed to give palliative care, like sedation, or withhold nutrition over an extended period of time until the patient dies. Doctors describe this as “a gray area” between normal palliative care and active life termination, he said, and they have been calling out for more regulation. . . . [Health Minister Hugo] De Jonge said his proposal will protect the interests of children, and will afford more transparency to the “gray area.”
Four points bear making here. First, the story notes that young children can already be killed via slow-motion euthanasia, known in bioethics parlance as “terminal sedation.” Unlike legitimate pain control, terminal sedation aims to cause death by keeping the patient in an artificial coma and withholding all sustenance until the patient dies of dehydration (thirst) in about two weeks. This is not the same procedure as “palliative sedation,” an ethical pain-controlling technique that puts the patient into lesser or deeper levels of sedation as the patient requires. The purpose of palliative sedation is to maximize the patient’s comfort. In such cases, death comes naturally from the underlying condition—not from the sedation or withheld food or water.
Second, given the steady expansion of euthanasia eligibility in the Netherlands over the years, there is no reason to believe that the “terminal diagnosis” restriction will be followed—much less stick—for long. Some mentally ill people who are killed would otherwise live a normal lifespan, but that fact has been used as a justification for killing because it means the patient could experience many years of suffering.