Dutch Grapple With Infant Euthanasia

AMSTERDAM, Dec. 4, 2005 — -- Anita and Frank go often to the burial place of their daughter Chanou, who spent her entire life -- six months -- in the Groningen University Hospital suffering from a terminal digestive disorder.

Chanou died when, with her parents' consent, doctors gave her a lethal dose of morphine.

"I gave her life," her mother said through a translator, "but I didn't give her life to live it unbearably."

Several years ago, Holland became the first country to legalize the mercy killings of adults. Now, this European nation, known for its liberal ways, has announced that in "certain circumstances" it will also allow babies to be euthanized.

Transparency Sought

Doctors say mercy killings of newborn children have been going on in secret for years, 15 to 20 times per year.

"We want our doctors to be as open as possible; we want transparency here," said Dr. Edward Verhagen, chief of pediatrics at Groningen and author of the new rules for euthanizing infants adopted this month by the Dutch government.

The new guidelines for infant euthanasia are quite simple: It can occur when the baby's pain cannot be eased and when there is no prospect for improvement. Parents must, of course, agree to it.

Holland is renowned for its liberalism on social issues. But for many here, the new rules are a step too far.

"We are working very hard on human rights, on anti-discrimination, the protecting of endangered species, and at the same moment we start to kill just-born babies," said Bert Dorenbos, president of Cry for Life, a pro-life group. "To say, 'OK, this is not a good baby, no quality of life, kill it right away,' that's a crime."

Three years ago, Holland became the first country in the world to legalize adult euthanasia, but it is still struggling with it. Today, fewer and fewer doctors are willing to perform mercy killings because, they find it too personally distressing.

Dutch politicians did not pass a new law legalizing infant euthanasia, and say they have no intention to. Technically, it will remain illegal. However, in practice, doctors will not be prosecuted for it, as long as they follow the new guidelines.

"I'm certainly pro-life, but I'm also a human being," said Henk Jan Ormel, a member of the Dutch House of Representatives. "I think when there is extreme, unbearable suffering, there can be extreme relief."

Chanou's parents, whose last name ABC News agreed not to use, say they believe they made the right decision.

"I'm convinced that if we meet again somewhere in heaven," her father said, "she'll tell us we reached the most perfect solution."

ABC News' Jim Sciutto originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Dec. 4, 2005.