Monday, April 21, 2008

Euthanasia trends in Europe

Recently there have been some disturbing trends in Europe towards fewer restrictions on euthanasia and assisted suicide and pressures that appear to be establishing a “right” to be killed.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2002. The Netherlands had effectively legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide by the decree of the courts in 1984 with the 2002 legalization simply codifying accepted practice into law.

Recently the country of Luxembourg moved closer to legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide with legislation passing second reading and going into hearings. It is widely expected that Luxembourg will be the third European nation to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Switzerland has tolerated assisted suicide for many years. Suicide groups have been assisting suicide within Switzerland based on a legal interpretation of their 1918 suicide law. In other words, Switzerland never legalized assisted suicide but tolerates the practise based on a legal interpretation. The Dignitas Suicide clinic is probably the best known of these groups.

In 2003 a group of “ethicists” at the Groningen University Hospital began looking at the question of infant euthanasia in the Netherlands. The 2002 law allowed euthanasia of consenting adults over the age of 12. The problem that the committee at Groningen University were attempting to solve is: what should be done with the newborns that are born with anomalies?

The Groningen Protocol was promulgated in 2005 and established a set of guidelines to be followed for the purpose of euthanizing infants in the Netherlands. The Groningen Protocol was based on the reports from Dutch physicians concerning the deaths of 22 infants who were born with spina bifida. Dutch physicians were not being prosecuted when they ended the life of newborns with spina bifida based on the Prins case in 1997. Prins was a physician who escaped prosecution after he killed an infant with spina bifida.

The Groningen Protocol allows euthanasia of infants when the parents give consent and when the child is considered to lack an “acceptable” quality of life. These decisions are made based on quality of life judgements that are connected to the new eugenics ideology that is promoted by Peter Singer of Princeton University and becoming more prevalent in our current culture.

At the World Federation of Right to Die Societies Conference in Toronto - September 2006 - Dr. Rob Jonquiére, the President of NVVE the leading euthanasia lobby group in the Netherlands explained that their goal was the legalization of the “last-will pill”. This is a prescription that would be given to healthy individuals (usually elderly or people with disabilities) who were tired of living.

In March, legislators in Belgium announced their intention to change the euthanasia law in their country to include infants, teenagers, and people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

The euthanasia law in Belgium was based on the Netherlands statute. It is recognized that the (so-called) safeguards in the Netherlands and Belgium laws were based on court precedents and political compromise. Now that the law has been in place for several years, there is an interest in changing the law towards gaining a universal “right” to die.

In Switzerland, the Dignitas suicide clinic has now changed its suicide technique from the use of a prescription to that of the plastic bag with helium (Exit bag). The Dignitas clinic is known for its encouragement of suicide tourists who go to Switzerland to die. It is estimated that 2 out of 3 people who die at their suicide clinic are suicide tourists.

Ludwig Minelli, the founder and director of Dignitas stated that they have changed their technique to using the plastic bag with helium method to eliminate the need for a physician to agree to assisting the death. Even physicians who support assisted suicide would often refuse to write lethal prescriptions for people who weren’t dying or suffering.

In France the case of Chantal Sébire, a woman who had tumors in her head that had caused her to become significantly deformed, and who had lost her sense of smell, her hearing and her sight. Sébire requested that she be allowed to have assistance with suicide. Her case was so emotionally compelling that 87% of the French population supported her request for assisted suicide.

After the courts refused Sébire, she committed suicide. We now know that Sébire had refused effective medical treatment for her condition from the very beginning. Her physicians explained that she could have had treatment in 2002 that would most likely have returned her to full health. She also refused pain management help that would have effectively relieved her pain and symptoms.

In Germany, Roger Kusch, a former German government minister, announced that he was planning to loan-out suicide machines to people who wished to die. This is not a new concept. When Jack Kevorkian first began his campaign in Michigan he was using a simple contraption to allow the person to commit suicide.

In Europe the Euthanasia lobby is becoming bolder and more extreme. They have let go of their traditional anthems of voluntary euthanasia for the competent and suffering; now they use language that would lead to euthanasia as a human right.

Remember, the issue of euthanasia is not about terminal illness, compassion for the dying, or ending suffering. Euthanasia is about having someone end your life at the time of your choosing or for society to allow someone to end the lives of incompetent vulnerable people who are unable to realize that they are better off dead.

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