A scary little country

The Dutch TV current events program NOVA had an interesting topic tonight.

Around the country consulting hours should be organized for people that want to have children. So says an as of yet confidential advise from the Health Council, that will be presented to Minister Klink (pictured) of Public Health.

The consults will be held by general practitioners and obstetricians. They will investigate whether the life style of the prospective parents produces risks for the health of the child that is still to be made. Pre-conception care, it is called. For instance, if the prospective father smokes or drinks, he might better stop that before conception, beacsue that improves the quality of the sperm.

If the advise is followed, there will be less children with birth defects, according to the Health Council.
Apparently this is a huge problem. This must be a crippling burden on the Dutch health budget eating away precious resources. Else this rather draconian measure would not be taken. Right?

Wrong! Take a look at the graph reproduced on the left (or click for a larger version). It is from a 1999 flyer by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics. Admittedly the graph a based on statistics from 1994, but I would venture the picture has not changed dramatically since then.

The graph depicts the relative impact of different categories of illnesses on the costs of health care.

As it happens the top category is 'Aangeboren afwijkingen', Dutch for birth defects. Less then 1% of the total costs of health care in the Netherlands goes to treating the effects of congenital defects.

So, obviously budgetary considerations can't be the main rationale for this rather intrusive advise. Why then is this advise presented? To what problem is this a solution? Well, let's look at the implications of this advise, shall we?

In the advise the state, through GPs and midwifes recruited for the effort, will tell prospective parents how to produce birth-defect free children. Thus the culpability of having a child with a birth defect is shifted from natural causes and accidents to the defcetive life styles of the parents. That will be delightful news to all those parents with a Down syndrome kid or children otherwise challenged: You all thought it was just a freak of nature, or God, or whatever, but you were wrong. It is all your own fault! Should have listened to the Health Council. They will make accidents and mishaps, even the most natural ones, disappear with the introduction of compulsory consults.

Obviously the Health Council thinks the state needs to protect the unborn child from its parents. And why would it think that? What is the stake that the state has in this? Having children is (or used to be, anyway) a highly personal decision of two people. But apparently the Health Council thinks that having children is a duty to the state, in which the state naturally can, nay must, set the conditions under which the child is conceived. This advise is nothing less then an encouragement for the state to usurp the power and custody that so naturally belongs to parents. In effect, this advise implies that having children in not a private issue, but a public one. The children are of the state, and not of the parents.

The NOVA item broadcast hinted at the compulsary nature of these consulting hours. So one wonders what the penalty will be if prospective parents 'illegally' produce a child without having attended these consults. A cut in their Child Assistance (Kinderbijslag)? Revoking of parental custody? What?

The NOVA item broadcast also mentioned that minister Klink will welcome the advise, since he already had plans along these lines. How fortunately coincidental! Mind you, this state interference in the private lives of its citizens is introduced by a supposedly centre-left government. Which ought to give our cousins from across the big pond a clue as to how left of centre the centre has already drifted in The Netherlands (and Europe for that matter).

The Netherlands is fast becoming a scary little country, where the government evidently knows of no boundary where the public interest ends and the private begins.

Related reading: HitlerJugend, all over again...

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