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Pope begs Dutch authorities to rethink mercy killing of babies

Pope John Paul II has urged doctors and authorities in the Netherlands to think again about decisions on euthanasia, following reports that senior Dutch doctors had admitted killing 22 terminally ill newborn babies.

The London Daily Telegraph said their admissions were intended to force the authorities to agree to regulate the practice.

Pope John Paul said: "I urge the authorities and medical personnel and all those who exercise an educative role to weigh the gravity of these questions."

A study published the same day in the Dutch Journal of Medicine said that at least 22 newborn babies had been put to death since 1997, based on the doctors' own reports to public prosecutors. The true number is believed far higher.

The author of the report, Dr Eduard Verhagen, the head of paediatrics at Groningen university hospital, said that doctors put to death between 10 and 15 infants a year. No action was taken over any of the deaths, although euthanasia is technically legal in Holland only for patients aged over 12.

Verhagen heads the children's clinic at the Groningen Academic Hospital, which last year caused outrage at the Vatican and among euthanasia opponents by proposing guidelines for child euthanasia and announcing that it had already used them to kill four newborns.

The Groningen Protocol, as his guidelines have come to be known, say euthanasia is acceptable when the child's medical team and independent doctors agree the pain cannot be eased and there is no prospect for improvement, and when parents think it's best.

The 22 babies listed in the study suffered from extreme spina bifida in which their spinal cord was open at birth and much of their brains were missing. Also, their kidneys, bladders and digestive systems did not function. Dr Verhagen said that such infants "would need at least 60 operations in a year temporarily to alleviate their problems.

These operations would not ease the pain; the child would have to be constantly anaesthetised."

He said that when parents and doctors agreed in such cases that there was no hope of any quality of life, the life of the child should be ended.

In 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to legalise euthanasia for adults suffering unbearable incurable pain

Mercy killing of babies in Holland spurs Pope into plea for a rethink (Irish Independent/London Telegraph 24/1/05)
Study shows 22 cases of child euthanasia (Australian Associated Press/National Nine News 23/1/05)

Respect Life Office, Archdiocese of Melbourne
Life Office, Archdiocese of Sydney

Pope says euthanasia distorts medical ethics (CathNews 15/11/04)
Late-term abortions increasing (CathNews 21/12/04)

Dutch urged to religious tolerance, respect for life (Catholic World News 24/1/05)
Michael Cook: Mercy killing in the Netherlands or eugenics? (On Line Opinion 13/1/04)

25 Jan 2005