July 4, 2010
The Euthanasia Drumbeat Gets Louder
Across the world, the inexorable push for accepting the new culture of death continues unabated.
It's not a pretty picture, because whichever way you turn, there is pressure for assisted suicide and euthanasia to become an acceptable and even hallowed part of the social fabric.
While the roots of assisted suicide and euthanasia are hardly of recent vintage, the contemporary ground zero in our lifetimes is the Netherlands.
The Dutch pro-death story is the exemplar by which all pro-death efforts should be gauged because it shows how quickly a social taboo can be reversed in the public consciousness to being a desirable and even obligatory behavior.
By the late 1980s, the Netherlands had a problem. It was clear that in medical facilities across the country, hundreds of patients were being euthanized behind closed doors. The rising evidence of medicalized killing was problematic because euthanasia was then (and still is) illegal in Holland.
Predictably, rather than prosecuting medical personnel who were in effect executing their patients, the authorities' hand-wringing led to the Remmelink Report, which verified that illegal medicalized killing was a fact. Just as predictably, the Dutch solution was to regulate euthanasia rather than prosecute the killing as a criminal offense.
This was the beginning of the end. What started out as a set of guidelines to control euthanasia soon morphed into the current Dutch take of horror:
Initially, euthanasia was meant only for adults who were terminally ill and in unbearable and uncontrollable physical pain.
Soon, euthanasia became available for those with unbearable physical pain, even if it could be controlled, and even if they were not terminally ill.
It got worse. Soon thereafter, euthanasia was allowed for those who were not only not terminally ill, but for people in no physical pain whatsoever -- psychological pain, controllable or not, was enough.
And then came the nasty canard that if euthanasia was available for adults, it should be made available for teens. Promptly, the age limit to request euthanasia for just about any reason was lowered to 16.
So the current state of affairs in the Netherlands is that euthanasia is available on request and after meeting some very vague criteria: if you are 16 or older, in some form of (undefined) "unbearable" pain (not necessarily physical), and if it seems that things won't get better anytime soon.
But that's not the end of this macabre story.
Under the current Dutch guidelines, euthanasia is reported only after the patient is dead, so there's no way of knowing whether all incidents of euthanasia are reported. Chances are that there are many more medicalized killings than are actually recorded.
That's not the end: It's officially reported that hundreds if not thousands of patients in the Netherlands are killed even though they never requested euthanasia. Furthermore, the euthanasia figures do not include those who die via assisted suicide or the number of newborns with disabilities that are routinely euthanized under the Groningen Protocol. Both of these groups are reported separately.
It's not surprising, therefore, that as the legal constraints preventing medicalized killing in the Netherlands have been loosened to the point that current criminal statutes are routinely ignored, there has been a corresponding collapse of popular opposition to euthanasia.
For example, a recent Dutch campaign by euthanasia advocates garnered 100,000 signatures petitioning that euthanasia be allowed for anyone over the age of 70, even for the flimsy reason that they are simply tired of living.
Also, "official" euthanasia is on the rise: Government figures from 2008 show a 10% rise in the number of incidents of euthanasia and then another 13% rise last year. The Dutch ministry of Health is apparently "concerned" about the rising kill rate. Given the euthanasia push over the last twenty years, I'm surprised the Dutch are surprised that euthanasia is out of hand.
The slippery slope has gone the same way in Switzerland and Belgium. I predict it will soon be the same in the U.K.
And in the U.S., the story is beginning to mimic these matters overseas. Oregon and Washington both have seriously flawed assisted suicide laws that invite abuse and exploitation, and now there's word that a psychiatrist is proposing an assisted death clinic in Oregon along the lines of the infamous Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.
Let's hope looking at the Netherlands will bring us to our senses long before death on demand or involuntarily are considered dignified, brave, and obligatory.
Dr. Mark Mostert lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He can be contacted at his news blog Alive and Kicking or at firstname.lastname@example.org.