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Euthanizing Babies — Moral Progress or Regress?

An honest sense of moral discomfort marks Jim Holt’s article published in today’s edition of The New York Times Magazine. In “Euthanasia for Babies?“, Holt considers the now-infamous Groningen Protocols developed by a team of Dutch doctors. These medical protocols allow for the killing of infants judged to be enduring great pain.

Of course, the Dutch have been progressively expanding their embrace of euthanasia. The so-called “Dutch Cure” has spread to other countries as well. Will other nations adopt something like the Groningen Protocols?

Holt’s article is a signal that the moral conscience of post-Christian America is still uncomfortable with the idea of euthanizing infants. HIs article is worth careful attention. Consider these selections. First, his introductory paragraph:

One sure way to start a lively argument at a dinner party is to raise the question Are we humans getting more decent over time? Optimists about moral progress will point out that the last few centuries have seen, in the West at least, such welcome developments as the abolition of slavery and of legal segregation, the expansion of freedoms (of religion, speech and press), better treatment of women and a gradual reduction of violence, notably murder, in everyday life. Pessimists will respond by citing the epic evils of the 20th century — the Holocaust, the Gulag. Depending on their religious convictions, some may call attention to the breakdown of the family and a supposed decline in sexual morality. Others will complain of backsliding in areas where moral progress had seemingly been secured, like the killing of civilians in war, the reintroduction of the death penalty or the use of torture. And it is quite possible, if your dinner guests are especially well informed, that someone will bring up infanticide.

His conclusion: Our sense of what constitutes moral progress is a matter partly of reason and partly of sentiment. On the reason side, the Groningen protocol may seem progressive because it refuses to countenance the prolonging of an infant’s suffering merely to satisfy a dubious distinction between ”killing” and ”letting nature take its course.” It insists on unflinching honesty about a practice that is often shrouded in casuistry in the United States. Moral sentiments, though, have an inertia that sometimes resists the force of moral reasons. Just quote [the doctor's] description of the medically induced infant deaths over which he has presided — ”it’s beautiful in a way. . . . It is after they die that you see them relaxed for the first time” — and even the most spirited dinner-table debate over moral progress will, for a moment, fall silent.

SEE ALSO: My previous articles and commentaries, including The Age of Infanticide, Euthanasia for Newborns, New Assaults on Human Dignity, Killing Newborns in the Netherlands, Now They Want to Kill Children: Euthanasia in Europe.