Neonatal euthanasia is unsupportable: the Groningen protocol should be abandoned

Theor Med Bioeth. 2007;28(5):453-63. doi: 10.1007/s11017-007-9047-8.


The growing support for voluntary active euthanasia (VAE) is evident in the recently approved Dutch Law on Termination of Life on Request. Indeed, the debate over legalized VAE has increased in European countries, the United States, and many other nations over the last several years. The proponents of VAE argue that when a patient judges that the burdens of living outweigh the benefits, euthanasia can be justified. If some adults suffer to such an extent that VAE is justified, then one may conclude that some children suffer to this extent as well. In an attempt to alleviate the suffering of extremely ill neonates, the University Medical Center Groningen developed a protocol for neonatal euthanasia. In this article, I first present the ethical justifications for VAE and discuss how these arguments relate to euthanizing ill neonates. I then argue that, even if one accepts the justification for VAE in adults, neonatal euthanasia cannot be supported, primarily because physicians and parents can never accurately assess the suffering of children. I argue that without the testament of the patient herself as to the nature and magnitude of her suffering, physicians can never accurately weigh the benefits and burdens of a child's life, and therefore any such system would condemn to death some children whose suffering is not unbearable. I conclude that because the primary duty of physicians is to never harm their patients, neonatal euthanasia cannot be supported.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beneficence
  • Euthanasia, Active, Voluntary / ethics*
  • Euthanasia, Active, Voluntary / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Medical Futility
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Netherlands
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Quality of Life*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Value of Life*
  • Withholding Treatment / ethics*