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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Holland, the U.K., and the U.S. - Have We Learned the Lessons of History?

On Monday, The Daily Standard published an article by Wesley J. Smith, which compares current Dutch infant euthanasia laws to the moral climate in pre-Nazi Germany.

In the article Smith quotes Italy's Parliamentary Affairs minister, Carlo Giovanardi, who commented during a radio debate: "Nazi legislation and Hitler's ideas are reemerging in Europe via Dutch euthanasia laws and the debate on how to kill ill children."

Even though the Dutch were incensed, Giovanardi 's comparison is a valid one. In 1920 Karl Binding, a German law professor and judge, collaborated with psychiatrist Alfred Hoche to write The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value. The authors suggested that those who are terminally ill, mentally ill, suffer retardation, or are deformed are "absolutely worthless human beings" who are "unworthy of life."

Over time, the ideas suggested by Binding and Hoche gained acceptance in German society. According to Smith, "by 1938 the German government received an outpouring of requests from the relatives of severely disabled infants and young children seeking permission to end their lives." Euthanizing these children was regarded as a way to relieve suffering and to save money that would have been spent on care for the disabled.

This pre-Nazi Germany euthanasia program provided a fertile ground for the onset of the Holocaust. For more on the progression from infant euthanasia to the Holocaust, read Smith's article .

For now, though, compare the cultural attitude of pre-Nazi Germany to that of the current cultural attitude in the Netherlands. In 2004 Groningen University Medical Center published the "Groningen Protocol," which made public the guidelines the hospital followed when it killed 22 disabled newborns between 1997 and 2004.

Smith points out that the Groningen Protocol, which is expected to become the basis for the official approval of Dutch pediatric euthanasia,

created categories of killable babies: infants "with no chance of survival," infants with a "poor prognosis and are dependent on intensive care," and "infants with a hopeless prognosis," including those "not depending on intensive medical treatment but for whom a very poor quality of life . . . is predicted." In other words, infant euthanasia is not restricted to dying babies but can be based on predicted serious disability.

The comparison of what is currently happening in the Netherlands to the euthanasia program of pre-Nazi Germany is haunting.

Now, further compare the pre-Nazi Germany euthanasia program to a current debate in the U.K. The U.K. Sunday Times reports that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says that medical care for premature babies born before 25 weeks gestation is "bed blocking": using resources that could be used in the treatment of others who are deemed to have a better chance, not only of survival, but also of a healthy life.

The article states that there is "a growing view among child specialists that babies born under 25 weeks should be denied intensive care and allowed to die," a practice that "would shift Britain towards practice in Holland, the only European country that accepts such babies should die."

Remember the justification for the German euthanasia program, the one that said that euthanizing children would not only relieve suffering but would also save money that would otherwise have to be spent on care for the disabled? Well, here is what the Sunday Times article said about the cost of caring for premature babies.

The cost of treating very premature babies is high. A neonatal intensive care bed costs about £1,000 a day and very premature babies can require intensive care for four months.

Research to be presented at the Royal College of Paediatrics conference shows babies born at 25 weeks or under cost almost three times as much to educate by the time they reach the age of six as those born at full term.

Professor Sir Alan Craft, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics, said: “Many paediatricians would be in favour of adopting the Dutch model of no active intervention for these very little babies. The vast majority of children born at this gestation who do survive have significant disabilities. There is a lifetime cost and that needs to be taken into the equation when society tries to decide whether it wants to intervene.”

So, it's not just that these premature babies take space at the hospital and drain resources that could be used for other patients; they may also be a burden on society as they go through life. So what is the answer that is being suggested? Let them die.

Does pre-Nazi Germany, present day Holland, and present day U.K. have anything to do with us here in the United States? You bet.

We are now approaching the one-year anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo. In April of 2005, I wrote an article detailing the danger of the Terri Schiavo case as it has become a part of and contributes to the development of an American culture of death. I invite you to read that article.


Anonymous Andrew said...

Thanks for the great post, Bryan. The path that Holland, and now perhaps the U.K., is travelling is a dark one. It is one we have seen before in Germany and elsewhere, and it is one that I pray we turn from before it is too late. Thanks again for a great summary that should serve as a sobering warning to us all.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Great post, Bryan, and one that every person needs to read.

I don't know of many people who would ever want to see anything like the Holocaust happen again, and yet most people are so caught up in political correctness and their own lives that they can't even recognize the danger that we face by not learning lessons from our past.

Americans and Europeans are so busy being "progressive" in their thinking that they don't see how eerily similar it is to the thinking of Hitler more than 50 years ago.

3:38 PM  

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