Rushing toward death - Euthanasia in the Netherlands

Theo Boer

Theo Boer

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

In July 2014, Professor Theo Boer, who was member, for nine years, of a euthanasia regional review committee in the Netherlands, wrote an article that was published in the Daily Mail urging the British parliament to reject the legalization of assisted suicide. Boer then gave the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition permission to publish the full text of his article entitled "Assisted Suicide: Don't go there."

Today Professor Boer published a significant critique of the Netherlands Euthanasia Law under the title: Rushing toward death?

Boer begins by explaining how euthanasia became legal, and how the law works in the Netherlands. He wrote:

In 1994 the Netherlands became the first country to legalize assisted dying. The Dutch added a clause to the Burial and Cremation Act allowing doctors to help a person die as long as the patient made an informed request and faced unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement; a second doctor concurred in the decision; and medically advised methods were used. The clause was further codified by the Assisted Dying Act in 2001. Belgium followed suit with similar legislation in 2002. 
In the Netherlands, five regional review committees, each consisting of a lawyer, a physician, and an ethicist, were charged with keeping an eye on the practice and assessing (after the fact) whether a case of assisted dying complied with the law. 
Two forms of assisted dying are legally practiced: euthanasia, in which the action of the physician causes death, and physician-assisted suicide, in which a physician provides the patient with a lethal drink administered by the patient. The overwhelming majority of patients who make use of the law (95 percent) choose euthanasia.

Boer then explains why he originally supported the Netherlands euthanasia law.

Link to the full article

When assisted suicide become banal

This article was published in the CMAJ blogs on November 24, 2015

Dr Rene Leiva

Dr Rene Leiva

By Dr Rene Leiva

I read with interest the CMAJ Editor in Chief’s latest editorial about protecting the right of physicians to conscientiously object to being party to physician hastened death. Principled medicine has dealt with suffering since Hippocratic tenets were first formulated about 2400 years ago. It is only in the last fifty years that causing death has been construed as ‘medical treatment’ for suffering, which I firmly believe to be erroneous. I’m disturbed to see that while Quebec is leading the country on euthanasia only a fraction of its population has access to palliative care. Palliative Care has been around for close to forty years, but Quebec's new law on ‘medical aid in dying’ expects to make that option available to 100 per cent of Quebecers in a matter of months.

In Belgium, hastened death has become part of the culture: despite having initially focused on the competent adult who is terminally ill, it has quickly moved into euthanasia for mental suffering and dementia, and for those tired of living, as well as children; it is commonly practiced by other health professionals such as nurses despite this being illegal. Medically assisted deaths have risen by 640% in Belgium since the law was adopted in 2002 and there are a significant number of deaths without consent as well as under reporting.

When I first met Tom Mortier through mutual acquaintances, he impressed upon me his concerns about the dangers of living in a society that embraces hastened death and shared the sad and tragic account of his mother’s euthanasia under the Belgian law. Her story was the focus of a recent article in the New Yorker and part of an Australian TV documentary. He often forwards me information on euthanasia cases and events that in a different culture or time would have been unthinkable: from the doctor who euthanized his mother leading an ‘educational trip’ to the Nazi camp Auschwitz to leaders in the field celebrating euthanasia as having ‘a life-intensifying and sacred dimension’.

Not all the founders of the hastened death movement have remained convinced they were doing the right thing. Ann Humphry, the late co-founder of the Hemlock Society, now Compassion and Choices, deeply regretted her actions. She was concerned that sick and vulnerable people might feel subtle pressures to relieve their families and friends of the emotional burdens of their lingering death. Is this unrealistic? Last year, a Canadian woman committed suicide while promoting the legalization of hastened death. Part of her manifesto stated that ‘I can live or vegetate for perhaps ten years in hospital at Canada’s expense, costing anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year,” she said. “Nurses, who thought they were embarked on a career that had great meaning, find themselves perpetually changing my diapers and reporting on the physical changes of an empty husk. It is ludicrous, wasteful and unfair”. Is this the message we want to communicate about the value of our parents’ and grandparents’ lives as the end approaches?

Link to the full article

Netherland 2013 euthanasia report - 15% increase, euthanasia for psychiatric problems and dementia

By Alex Schadenberg
International Chair - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The 2013 Netherlands euthanasia report was released todayindicating a 15% increase of reported euthanasia deaths. There were also 42 euthanasia deaths for people with psychiatric problems and 97 euthanasia deaths for people with dementia.

The 2013 report indicated that there were 4829 reported euthanasia deaths which was up from 4188 in 2012. As bad as it is, the reported euthanasia deaths do not include the unreported euthanasia deaths.

The five year Netherlands euthanasia Lancet study indicated that in 2010, 23% of all euthanasia deaths went unreported in the Netherlands, which was up from 20% in 2005. The under-reporting of euthanasia in the Netherlands represents (20% - 23%) of all euthanasia deaths. It is likely that the actual number of euthanasia deaths is (965 - 1100) deaths higher.