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In Service to Inhumanity

George Neumayr

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What is the difference between aborting a baby and euthanizing it? Nothing except the timing of the killing. In the Netherlands, a country that never hesitates to unfold the logic of liberalism to its farthest points, doctors have devised a program to euthanize babies deemed defective. They euthanized four babies last year, according to press reports earlier in the week. Now they are calling upon the Dutch government to pursue a more ambitious program that would let doctors euthanize undesirables with "no free will," meaning minors.

C.S. Lewis wrote that evil is done "in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices." Lewis could have added that they don't even need to raise their voices when they go on public radio to explain their evil. On Wednesday, National Public Radio politely interviewed one of the Dutch doctors overseeing the euthanasia-for-children program, Eduard Verhagen, clinical director of the Pediatric Clinic of the University Hospital at Groningen. This white-coated doctor with neatly trimmed fingernails didn't need to raise his voice when asked by NPR quite casually, "How was it decided that they should die?" The children had medical conditions like "spina bifida," responded Verhagen. The babies were born "with incurable conditions," so "we felt that in these children the most humane course of action would be to allow the child to die, and even actively assist them in their death."

Assist them in their death. Had the toddlers scrawled out a consent form? No, they lack "free will," so pediatricians made the decision for them. Asked if what his hospital had done was legal, Verhagen blithely said, "No, it's not legal," but implied the Dutch government would tidy up that decision later. "It's a very delicate and very important decision that one needs to make," he said. "And if such a decision is made, we prefer to have it tested or assessed by a committee of experts, just to make sure that we have taken into account all the requirements and that we are really doing something that is correct."

Would parents be able to veto the decision on which children get to live or die according to the committee? Apparently not. When Verhagen was asked, "Is it just up to the parents?" he said, "No." But he quickly caught himself and magnanimously allowed that parents are "always very much involved." Ultimately, however, who lives or dies is the culture's decision, he said. "Let's see how society thinks of it," he offered. "What we would like to happen here in Holland is that we put the spotlight on such decisions because they need to be extremely secure. And instead of taking these decisions in a kind of gray area, we want them to be in the spotlight...The culture in Holland is a culture where euthanasia for adults has been legalized in 2002 by the Parliament."

Verhagen concluded on the thought that "the best way to protect life is to sometimes assist a little bit in death." This contradicted what he had said earlier when he stressed that "we are actually talking about children that are already in a dying process." No, they were not dying. If they were dying, they would have died without euthanasia. It is precisely because they were not dying that the Dutch doctors euthanized them.

Euthanasia isn't letting a patient die but killing a patient who isn't dying. It is an act of annoyance at a patient who isn't dying on the timetable those who want the patient to die would prefer. In the Terri Schiavo case, for example, her impatient husband demanded that she be deprived of food and water because she wasn't dying with sufficient speed. "Has she died yet?" a nurse heard him say. "When is that bitch going to die?" Euthanasia, it was said, would allow Schiavo to "die in peace." Die in peace? No, it would guarantee that she die violently. Starvation is not a peaceful act.

In clean, well-lighted hospitals, Verhagen and doctors like him are committing barbaric acts no different from pagans of old leaving inconvenient children on hilltops. Whenever a doctor uses the word "humane," it is clear that he has already performed the inhuman.

George Neumayr is executive editor of The American Spectator. Read this article on the American Spectator website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission of the author.

Posted: 12/05/04



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