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Trials a Sign That Dutch Heading Toward Infant Euthanasia Policy

December 23, 1994

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ In a sign that the government is moving to expand its liberal euthanasia policy to children, the Justice Ministry said Friday that two doctors on trial for killing severely deformed newborns are likely to be acquitted.

″The prosecutor’s office expects they will not be found guilty″ because the physicians followed official guidelines for adult euthanasia, said Justice Ministry spokeswoman Liesbeth Rensman.

Rensman said Justice Minister Winnie Sorgdrager decided to prosecute the physicians on murder charges only to establish a legal precedent on the issue of infant euthanasia. Such legal exercises are common in the Netherlands and defendants in such cases are often not sentenced even when convicted.

A judge is expected to rule on the cases next spring.

Euthanasia, or mercy killing, is still technically illegal in the Netherlands. But doctors who follow a set of guidelines - which stipulate that incurably ill patients in unrelievable pain must repeatedly and lucidly ask for death - can expect immunity from prosecution.

While known as the industrialized world’s most tolerant euthanasia policy, even these guidelines exclude some rare and potentially controversial cases, such as severely deformed infants and the comatose.

Gynecologist Henk Prins was charged with murder in the 1993 death of 4-day- old Baby Maartje, who suffered from spina bifida and other deformities.

Describing the child’s pain as ″unacceptable,″ Prins said he administered a muscle-paralyzing drug to the baby with the agreement of her parents. She died in her mother’s arms 15 minutes later.

Prins said several doctors had agreed that the child would have survived in excruciating pain for several months at most.

The Justice Ministry has declined to give the identity of the other doctor facing trial or details of the case.

In the process of trying to build a policy for infant euthanasia, Sorgdrager has rekindled opposition from foes of euthanasia.

″Making (euthanasia) laws in Holland nowadays is not built on justice, morals or rules but based on how much society can tolerate,″ said pediatrician Diny van Bruggen.

″This case will go on and they (officials) will just keep talking about it and see if there’s any protest,″ she said. ″That was how they arrived at abortion laws and for euthanasia and now for severely handicapped babies.″

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