Intended for healthcare professionals


Euthanasia in neonates

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 03 May 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:912
  1. Kate Costeloe, professor of paediatrics
  1. Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London, London E1 2AD
  1. k.l.costeloe{at}

    Should it be available?

    Euthanasia for newborn babies with lethal and disabling conditions is illegal worldwide. However, in reality its acceptance and practice vary between different countries.1 In the Netherlands, about 200 000 live births occur annually; of these, 10-20 babies—mostly with severe congenital malformations—are thought to be actively killed, yet between 1997 and 2004 only 22 such deaths were reported to the authorities.2

    To regulate neonatal euthanasia, clinicians in the Netherlands have argued that all cases should be reported. In collaboration with lawyers, they have developed and subsequently published guidance,3 which defines criteria that must be fulfilled before euthanasia can be considered and which would subsequently be examined by the statutory legal authorities (see box). Doctors who follow this guidance are not guaranteed freedom from prosecution, but to date no paediatrician in the Netherlands has been prosecuted.

    Essential criteria to be considered in neonatal euthanasia3

    • The diagnosis must be accurate and the prognosis hopeless

    • The baby's quality of life must be poor and he or she must be experiencing unbearable suffering despite optimal treatment

    • Both parents must give informed consent

    • An independent doctor must agree with the decision

    • Euthanasia must be carried out to an accepted medical standard

    In 2006 it was reported in the national press in the United Kingdom that, in response to a consultation undertaken …

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