updated 11/14/2008 2:57:36 PM ET 2008-11-14T19:57:36

No cases of infant euthanasia were reported in the Netherlands in the first year after laws on mercy killings were expanded to cover newborns, Dutch officials said Friday.

The Netherlands legalized euthanasia for adults in 2001 in cases where the patients are suffering unbearable pain due to illness with no hope of recovery, and ask to die. Several doctors must agree before a lethal cocktail of sedatives and painkillers is administered.

In 2006, that policy was expanded to include newborns with extreme birth defects, who can be killed at the request of their parents.

The commission set up to vet whether guidelines are followed in such cases said doctors did not report any incidences in 2007, the commission's first year of operation.

Studies in the 1990s found that 15 to 20 such babies were probably euthanized illegally each year in the Netherlands, a country of 16 million people. Doctors were hardly ever prosecuted because authorities were reluctant to press charges in a country where euthanasia has been widely accepted as ethical.

The panel of medical and ethical experts wrote in a report sent to Parliament that one explanation for the absence of reported infant euthanasia cases may be that fetuses with dire defects are being detected via ultrasound examinations and aborted before the 24th week of pregnancy.

The commission said members plan to visit all neonatal intensive care units in the country this year to encourage more reporting of euthanasia.

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