For Your Consideration: Infanticide

The NY Times Magazine had this past weekend a short piece detailing the rise of medical infanticide in the Netherlands.  This brand of infanticide might more accurately be referred to as child euthanasia, I guess, since we are dealing with extremely ill children.

At first blush, I can think of few things more repulsive.

My problem with this practice is tempered somewhat by my overwhelming desire to help ease the suffering of children.  Anyone who has been to a children’s hospital has probably felt this urge to take the pain away at any cost.  I can see how a desire to end pain can turn into a practice of euthanasia.  So when I read about the Groningen Protocol and its standards for giving children shots of morphine and midazolam, I think I understand the motivation.  I can understand the argument that to prolong a life of suffering may be considered a wrongful act.  In other words, I feel like I can see both sides of the issue.

But there is an aspect to the euthanasia of children that seems insurmountable to me, and that is the issue of choice.  As Charles Lehardy laid out at his blog AnotherThink, euthanasia typically depends upon the informed and uncoerced consent of the patient, something conspicuously absent in the case of children.  Parents act as guardians for their children, but they do not entirely supplant the child’s free will.  How do people get around that, ethically?  Or is it just a matter of a stronger desire to end suffering that overrides all other demands?  How far can this boundless (and perhaps twisted) compassion take us?


  1. How very similar to the what defense attorney Gil Athay indicated motivated Mark Hacking to kill his wife Lori:

    “This was a killing, in Mark’s words, ‘of love.’ He loved her so much. He saw the pain she was in,” Athay said. “He loved her so much he wanted to take her out of her pain.”

  2. Playing the devil’s advocate, if my child were dying and suffering, I MIGHT, might, be able to overdose them to end it. I don’t know, though, because my aging mother-in-law, who had had a stroke and a heart attack and was dying, gave me strict instructions when I was caring for her in my last days not to do anything if she had another stroke, to let her die. Thank God I didn’t have to make that decision. I could not make that promise.

  3. You are right Steve, it is all about choice. There are many cases, however, where prolonging life would be unethical. In those cases I’m all for copious morphine. If we can assuage the suffering, we must; but we cannot extinguish a life to do so.

  4. Interesting dilemma, Steve. I have no answer. I know I wouldn’t want my own children to be suffering, and I have faith I’ll be with them again. But does it make it my right to make that decision? I have no idea.

  5. One of the hardest ethical dilemmas to overcome in these types of situations is the “slippery slope” argument. Here, the worst case scenario is easy to imagine: parents, overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a desperately ill child, decide to euthanize the child to end their own pain, discomfort, and inconvenience. Of course, this action is horrifying, and the vast overwhelming majority of grieving and stressed out parents would never even consider it. Yet, laws are enacted to protect the hypothetical children of those selfish hypothetical parents. As a result, the option is unavailable for any family, no matter how much the child is suffering. Perhaps that is how it should be…we seem to fall on that side in most of our laws, let some of the guilty go if it means protecting the innocently accused, etc. It seems unjust, though, when protecting children means prolonging their suffering. What a hard, hard issue…

  6. Some decisions belong only to the Lord, and when a person dies is one of them. We humans, children of God, have not been delegated that authority from him. Hence, if we can keep a person alive without using such extraordinary means as a heart-lung machine, we have an obligation to do so at least until all brain activity is gone.

    Does the child suffer? Is the suffering hard for a loving parent to watch? That is just tough. Suffering is what mortality is all about. Without suffering there can be no joy, no learning, no growth. If it was not God’s will for men to suffer, he would have given us translated or immortal bodies. And of one thing we can be sure. None of us or any of our children are going to suffer as our Savior did while he was in Gethsemane and on the cross.

    I hate, with an almost perfect hatred, the ideas invading our culture that mankind has a right to usurp God’s prerogative in ending life for some nebulous “ethical” reason. I am referring to the damnable practices of abortion and euthanasia of either the young or the old.

    I am appalled that we even have to discuss this, that the discussion even comes up.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    John, I have a couple of problems with your comment, although I agree with the sentiment that abortion and euthanasia are undesirable practices.

    First, you asset that death is a decision that belongs only to God. I’m not so sure that assertion is entirely correct — as you point out yourself, we can medically postpone death in new ways. How is artificially preserving life any less invasive on God’s domain over life and death?

    Second, your statements “Does the child suffer? Is the suffering hard for a loving parent to watch? That is just tough” seem remarkably cold. I can see no reason for the suffering of a child at the hands of a disease that makes her skin fall off and scar at the slightest touch, or a child who is allergic to oxygen. While our Savior descended below all things in order to succor our sins, I don’t see the doctrinal gospel purpose of these horrible physical sufferings, and it seems a little callous to suggest that they are the purpose of life.

    And finally, what does it take to make your list of favorite blogs?!? Sheesh! We’re working our tails off here.

  8. Well, if it were my kid w/ the fatal skin disorder described in the article, I’d euthanize her myself with a pillow if the medical professionals wouldn’t volunteer assistance with morphine, etc. But these things should never be institutionalized, with protocols, ethical boards, etc. It’s a private parent/child/G-d/medical professional case-by-case thing and it’s nobody else’s business.

    My biggest beef w/ Kevorkian (before he became a murderer) was his attempt to institutionalize his assisted suicide practice. We shouldn’t have even known about it. The guy was a publicity freak long before the murder.

  9. A young friend, age 23, lingered far longer than she should have because she didn’t believe in God and was so afraid to die, she wouldn’t let go. She weighed 60 pounds when she finally died. Her mother absolutely refused to let her go, she didn’t believe in God, either.

    I prayed that God would take her. I don’t think it would have made any difference to anybody, except her, if we’d given her a little extra morphine and she didn’t go through that extra week of terrible suffering, and died her unalterably eventual death in peace.

  10. Bcc: By Common Consent is now on my Favorite Blogs list. Thank you for asking.

    I would like to correct any impression I may have left that I think avoidable suffering is a good thing. I just don’t think men have a right to promote mercy killing in our culture. That is heading down the same path taken by the Third Reich and the Russia of Stalin. It is abomination in the eyes of God, just as a number of other modern ideas being promoted among us. Some ideas are almost pure evil. Mercy killing and assisted suicide are examples. It leads to state sponsored murder for supposedly social benefits. I feel the same way about compulsory sterilization, and compulsory psychiatric committment and medication for the nonviolent medically ill. Taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves may be expensive, but some things are far more important than money, something a lot of materialists and secularists don’t seem to realize.

  11. My first reaction is that euthenasia is a very personal choice. We are after all commanded to endure to the end. How would this out be viewed?

    Another general thought is when it was mentioned that it must be an informed and uncoerced choice of the patient. Any choice made during the time of suffering would be coerced by the pain felt at that time. But these are all ethical arguments that are carried out over and over again when dealing with the patient. When the patient is another person and we are to make the deciscion for them it is not the patient’s choice.

    It becomes paramount to murder. Here in lies the interesting contradictions and irony of the whole matter. In our country, abortion is a legal option. But once the child is born the parents are not allowed to kill it. We see cases in the media about abuse and neglect and parents that have killed young infants, infants who only weeks earlier in some cases could be terminated as a choice (okay maybe thats zelous hyperbole but it conveys the irony of some choices).

    In addition to the ethical questions we must ask what grounds would be considered valid for child euthenasia? Children with terminal illnesses when they are born? What about diseases like cancer that develope later in life? Does the illness have to be terminal or just an inconvinience? Some countries are already legitimizing euthenasia of children with down syndrom and other retardations.

    These ethical questions are not easily answered and will likely never have a concrete answer. I would submit that when we are dealing with life we should err on the side of life. If we cannot come to a consensus then we must not allow euthenasia.

  12. Once again, I think we need to make the clear distinction between active and passive Euthanasia, or the argument becomes unwieldy. Passive euthanasia is defined as refusing to provide or refusing to continue treatment that would prolong life…i.e. refusing to hook someone up to a life support machine or taking them off of life support is passive euthanasia. Actively providing treatment that would shorten someone’s life, i.e. overdose on morphine, is active euthanasia. For what it’s worth, at least a few years ago, the church’s position was that passive euthanasia is okay, active is not. That is also the line currently drawn under U.S. law.