Thursday, July 28, 2011

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: What in the World is Going On?

By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in a few jurisdictions in the world, but most countries have rejected their legalization.

Most recently, legislation to legalize euthanasia and/or assisted suicide has been rejected in France, Israel, England, Scotland, Australia, Canada, Bulgaria, etc. In the U.S., where there have been well over 100 legislative proposals to legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS) since 1994, California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and more have recently rejected it. (1)

In the United States, assisted suicide was legalized by voter initiatives in Oregon in 1994 and Washington State in 2008. (2) A 2009 Montana Supreme Court ruling did not legalize assisted suicide but it did create a potential defense, based on consent of the patient, for physicians who are prosecuted for assisted suicide. In 2011, a bill to prohibit PAS and a bill to create regulations for PAS were both introduced in the MT legislature. Neither bill had enough votes for passage. (3)

In May 1995, Australia’s northern territory became the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize euthanasia. The law went into effect in June 1996 but was overturned by the Australian government in March 1997. (4)

The Netherlands officially legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in April 2002. Previous to that, the Dutch Courts approved the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Some people suggest that there are no problems with the Dutch euthanasia law, but in fact there is significant abuse and the slippery slope has been very steep. (5)

In the beginning, the Dutch euthanasia law applied only to people who were terminally ill and suffering uncontrolled pain. Now the law applies to people with physical and mental pain, people with chronic conditions, infants with disabilities (Groningen Protocol), people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and the current push is to allow euthanasia for people who are 70 years old and “tired of living.” (6) The most recent Dutch government study found that every year there are approximately 550 intentionally caused deaths without request or consent and approximately 20% of euthanasia deaths are not reported. (7)

In Belgium, euthanasia was legalized in 2003. Recent studies have revealed significant abuses of euthanasia and signs that it is “out-of-control.” Independent studies, published in May 2010, looked at the practice of euthanasia in the Flanders region. They revealed that 32% of the euthanasia deaths in that region were done without request or consent (8) and that 45% of all euthanasia deaths done by nurses in Belgium are without request or consent. (9) Another highly disturbing study published in October 2010 found that nearly half of the euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region are not reported and that “controversial” euthanasia deaths are usually not reported. Under-reporting explains why the “official” Belgium government report suggests that few if any problems exist. (10)

When looking at the studies concerning euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium, one must conclude that choice and autonomy (self-determination) are only the sales slogans for gaining societal acceptance of euthanasia; that in fact euthanasia has become a way to eliminate human lives deemed, by others, to be not worth living. (11)

Much research proves a direct connection between depression and requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide. Published in 2005, a study by a Dutch doctor who supports euthanasia found that people who had cancer were 4.1 times more likely to request euthanasia if they were depressed or experiencing feelings of hopelessness. (12) A similar study in Oregon, published in 2008, found that 26% of the people who requested euthanasia were depressed or experiencing feelings of hopelessness. The Oregon PAS law has a “supposed” safeguard that requires physicians to refer for psychological assessment anyone who requests assisted suicide and has signs of depression. (13) Nevertheless, of 124 people who died by assisted suicide in Oregon (2009 and 2010), only one was sent for a psychiatric or psychological assessment. (14) Yes, depressed people in Oregon are dying by assisted suicide.

Then there is the growing scourge of elder abuse in our culture. Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide creates new paths of abuse. Elder abuse is rarely reported because it is most often perpetrated by a person upon whom the victim is dependent. In the same way, a vulnerable person who is experiencing abuse can be steered to suicide when the law allows doctors to prescribe death. (15)

The euthanasia lobby promotes death on demand based on choice and autonomy. (16) This is an illusion. The legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide does not give you the “right to die.” It gives another person, usually a physician, the right to intentionally and directly cause your death.

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