http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/9872007.htmAMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - A hospital in the Netherlands - the first nation to permit euthanasia - recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives.
The announcement by the Groningen Academic Hospital came amid a growing discussion in Holland on whether to legalize euthanasia on people incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to end their lives - a prospect viewed with horror by euthanasia opponents and as a natural evolution by advocates.
In August, the main Dutch doctors' association KNMG urged the Health Ministry to create an independent board to review euthanasia cases for terminally ill people "with no free will," including children, the severely mentally retarded and people left in an irreversible coma after an accident.
The Health Ministry is preparing its response, which could come as soon as December, a spokesman said.
Three years ago, the Dutch parliament made it legal for doctors to inject a sedative and a lethal dose of muscle relaxant at the request of adult patients suffering great pain with no hope of relief.
The Groningen Protocol, as the hospital's guidelines have come to be known, would create a legal framework for permitting doctors to actively end the life of newborns deemed to be in similar pain from incurable disease or extreme deformities.
The guideline says 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.
Examples include extremely premature births, where children suffer brain damage from bleeding and convulsions; and diseases where a child could only survive on life support for the rest of its life, such as severe cases of spina bifida and epidermosis bullosa, a rare blistering illness.
The hospital revealed last month it carried out four such mercy killings in 2003, and reported all cases to government prosecutors. There have been no legal proceedings against the hospital or the doctors.
Roman Catholic organizations and the Vatican have reacted with outrage to the announcement, and U.S. euthanasia opponents contend the proposal shows the Dutch have lost their moral compass.
"The slippery slope in the Netherlands has descended already into a vertical cliff," said Wesley J. Smith, a prominent California-based critic, in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
My outrage to follow.AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - Four times in recent months, Dutch doctors have pumped lethal doses of drugs into newborns they believe are terminally ill, setting off a new phase in a growing European debate over when, if ever, it's acceptable to hasten death for the critically ill.
Few details of the four newborns' deaths have been made public. Official investigations have found that the doctors made appropriate and professional decisions under an experimental policy allowing child euthanasia that's known as the Groningen University Hospital protocol.
Under the Groningen protocol, if doctors at the hospital think a child is suffering unbearably from a terminal condition, they have the authority to end the child's life. The protocol is likely to be used primarily for newborns, but it covers any child up to age 12.
A parent's role is limited under the protocol. While experts and critics familiar with the policy said a parent's wishes to let a child live or die naturally most likely would be considered, they note that the decision must be professional, so rests with doctors.
The protocol was written by hospital doctors and officials, with help from Dutch prosecutors. It's being studied by lawmakers as potential law.
Opponents of expanding euthanasia to the young cite a recent Dutch court ruling against punishment for a doctor who injected fatal drugs into an elderly woman after she told him she didn't want to die.
The court determined that he'd made "an error of judgment," but had acted "honorably and according to conscience."