American Enterprise Online
December 15, 2004
By Alan W. Dowd

I live in a so-called Red state (and proudly so). Surrounded by other Red states and insulated from many of the transatlantic comings-and-goings upon which our neighbors in “Blue America” seem to thrive, Red states are sometimes written off as disinterested in Europe or even anti-European. The former is far more common than the latter, even after the diplomatic debacle in Iraq. At least that’s what I thought until Groningen Academic Hospital in the Netherlands admitted, with a shrug, that it has begun euthanizing newborns.  

As someone who believes in the importance of transatlantic cooperation, I often remind my fellow Red-staters that Europe and America have much more in common than in contrast. After all, many of our families emigrated from Europe. Our grandfathers and fathers returned to Europe to liberate it from Hitler and protect it from Moscow. We share vast economic and security interests. We have a shared cultural tradition, stretching from “Plato to NATO,” as a cleverly-titled book once put it. (Whether or not there’s more sentiment than substance to that phrase is actually the subject of the book.) 

Not unlike a family, we members of the transatlantic community feel entitled to offer constructive criticism of one another. Europeans have done so with gusto in recent years, especially regarding America’s willingness—even eagerness—to employ military force, its embrace of capital punishment and its overt religiousness. Those of us who try to translate these critiques for our countrymen—whether in Blue states, Red, or Purple—may find it harder to do so in the wake of Groningen. 

As the Associated Press reported earlier this month, doctors at the Groningen Academic Hospital admit that they have been euthanizing infants at least since 2000. In fact, Wesley Smith of the Discovery Institute unearthed a 1997 study concluding that about eight percent of all infants who die each year in the Netherlands are euthanized. According to Smith, “The study found that a shocking 45 percent of neo-natologists and 31 percent of pediatricians who responded to questionnaires had killed infants.” Worse yet, “Approximately 21 percent of the infant euthanasia deaths occurred without request or consent of parents.” 

Although no one has been prosecuted at Groningen, the dilemma of putting someone out of his misery—especially someone who cannot even confirm that he is miserable—has forced the hospital to develop guidelines on which infants should be euthanized. According to the AP, the “Groningen Protocol” allows for euthanasia infants who are extremely premature, who could only live on life support, who have severe spina bifida, or who have no chance of getting better. 

Now, we hear that the Dutch are debating whether to approve euthanasia for anyone—infant or adult—who is incapable of deciding for himself whether or not he should keep living. 

This was inevitable and predictable. Any place that starts down the slippery slope of mercy killing is bound to distort the definition of both mercy and killing, while expanding the definition of what is terminal or miserable.  

This doesn’t mean Europe is beyond repair or beneath America’s company. But it does mean that Europe has little standing to criticize America when it comes to human rights and the like. In the dark shadow of Groningen, sneers from across the Atlantic about sleep deprivation at Guantanamo Bay or the imperfections of a liberated Afghanistan or the hard road to Iraqi democracy or the size of Saddam’s prison cell have lost their sting.  

Neither America nor its military is perfect. The abuse at Abu Ghraib is a grim reminder that any organization made up of humans is inherently flawed. Of course, it’s also a reminder that the U.S. military strives to do what’s right: It pays to recall that the scandal was uncovered by the military itself. And it pays to recall that rather than euthanizing al-Qaeda’s captured killers and Saddam’s henchmen, the U.S. government is struggling to find a fair way to try them.  

Likewise, given what is happening in the maternity wards of Amsterdam, Europe’s condescension about the role of faith in America is badly off-target. In fact, now that they are flirting with eugenics, Europe’s elites would do well to find some religion.

As to Europe’s self-righteous condemnation of the death penalty, many Americans oppose the death penalty—including some of us in Red states. But even those of us who oppose it recognize that it’s administered only after every avenue of due process is exhausted—and then only against the most violent and brutal of criminals. In fact, it seems the U.S. criminal justice system does more to protect the rights—and extend the lives—of the monsters on Death Row than many Dutch doctors do for innocent newborns afflicted with spina bifida or some other “incurable” malady.   

If Europe is truly a union, as its leaders now claim, then euthanizing infants and others against their will is not only a Dutch problem—it’s a European problem. As such, Europeans should fix it. And until they do, until they summon the will to reverse this downward slide, perhaps they should keep quiet about America’s imperfections.