Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Chapter XVIII: Biological Cleansing at the Beginning of Life

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Chapter XVIII: Biological Cleansing at the Beginning of Life

Article excerpt

In 1988, a baby born with Down syndrome vomited all nourishment and was admitted to one of Holland's leading centers for pediatric surgery, the Sophia Hospital in Rotterdam. It was found that the child had an inborn defect of the digestive tract, duodenal atresia, which made it impossible for food to pass from the stomach to the intestines. In these cases, surgery to remove the obstruction is feasible and life-saving. But the parents and the pediatric surgeon, professor Molenaar, decided to refrain from surgery and let the child die. The family physician, who could not reconcile himself with putting the child to death, called the district attorney. The latter warned the Council for Children's Protection, but this body decided not to intervene. No surgery was done and the child died. (136) A court, and then the Supreme Court, exonerated the surgeon. (137) The family physician was harshly criticized because his call to the D.A. broke his oath of confidentiality. (138)

The case provoked a broad discussion, which took an unexpected turn: most debaters criticized professor Molenaar's course of action, (139) and the Minister of Health, Welfare and Culture declared that medical treatment should never be refused on grounds of mental disability. (140) There was no doubt that the case was just one example of a more widespread practice. Indeed, a team of anesthetists at a teaching hospital decided never to provide anesthesia for cardiac surgery in children with Down syndrome, and from other centers there were reports of three children with this syndrome who were denied vitally important surgery for their inborn cardiac defects. (141). The parents persevered and finally found hospitals that agreed to do the surgery.

The circumstances of euthanasia of other newborns and children are illustrated by three published case histories: First, a girl born prematurely, in the thirty-second week, recovered from an infection, but there was suspicion of an excess of intracranial fluid. The parents refused to allow the insertion of a drainage tube. On the thirtieth day after birth the girl was killed by a pediatrician with injections of morphine-like drug and potassium chloride. (142)

Second, after consulting several specialists and getting the approval of the parents, Dr. H.P., an obstetrician, killed a girl born with cleft spine and hydrocephalus. The Minister of Justice decided to put Dr. P on trial, expecting a verdict that would establish a legal precedent. (143)

Third, Danny had cleft spine and hydrocephalus but was in fair general condition. No drainage tube to relieve the hydrocephalus was inserted. Once Danny seemed to have some abdominal pain, and another time he apparently felt not quite well for two consecutive days. This prompted the parents to ask for euthanasia. With this purpose the child was admitted to Rainier de Graft Hospital in Delft. One of the nurses opposed the decision, and on the next day she and her husband offered to adopt the child. The offer was rejected. On August 19, 1990, Danny, then aged three and one-half months, was killed with drugs administered by intravenous drip. The nurse was reprimanded because by involving her husband in the adoption offer she violated professional confidentiality (144)

These case histories should seem familiar to the American reader. The first child had Down syndrome and an inborn obstruction of the digestive tract, as had the unhappy Baby Doe from Bloomington, Indiana. (145) Two other babies had cleft spine, the same defect as the babies that in 1983 were starved and neglected to death in Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City. (146) But some peculiar features can be seen. One of these is the doctors' readiness to administer lethal injections, and their openness about such actions. Another peculiarity are the punishments meted out to persons who opposed the termination of children's lives.

The Extent of the Practice. Euthanasia of newborns and children became known due to the nationwide survey ordered by the Dutch government in 1995. …

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