Sunday, June 27, 2010

When doctors kill instead of heal

The Calgary Herald published this excellent editorial on June 27. I am simply reprinting it for your enjoyment.

When doctors kill instead of heal

Calgary Herald - June 27, 2010

Perhaps Dutch health officials are now going to learn how to spell "slippery slope." The Dutch health ministry has launched an inquiry into the law which sets out the guidelines for euthanasia to be performed in the Netherlands, now that a 13 per cent increase in cases in one year has been duly noted.

In 2009, 2,636 Dutch people were euthanized by doctors administering a fatal drug potion, as compared to 2,331 whose deaths were reported in 2008.

The reasons for the increase are uncertain, with Jan Suyver, who chairs the government's euthanasia monitoring commission, claiming the taboo that used to be associated with euthanasia is easing, and suggesting that doctors are also "more likely to report it." Those opposed to euthanasia are blaming a corresponding decrease in the quality of palliative care available to patients.

However, another reason might be that, as the country has become accustomed to euthanasia as an accepted way to die, the guidelines are not being strictly adhered to.

The law says that patients must be suffering intolerable pain and that two doctors must be convinced the patients have given their informed consent. This has been documented to be utter nonsense, of course. Dutch law states anyone over the age of 16 who is in mental anguish or is depressed can request physician-assisted suicide, and in 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that Dutch doctors were euthanizing infants born with spina bifida and cleft palates. An infant cannot give informed consent -- and a teenager, or anyone else, who is depressed needs talk therapy and medication, not death, to resolve the crisis.

There are a number of reasons why reports of euthanasia might be on the increase. Doctors might be killing people without their consent -- and a 1990 report into this phenomenon found that more than 1,000 Dutch people who underwent euthanasia had not given their consent, with about 72 per cent of those having never indicated to anyone that they wanted to die. The number of babies, young children and depressed teens who were killed might have risen, due to broadening latitudes in interpreting the law.

There appear to be two separate inquiries with which the Dutch health ministry should concern itself -- the rise in euthanasia cases and the state of palliative care in that country. The two are not necessarily related, as it is always possible that, regardless of how good the quality of palliative care is, it may be very tempting for physicians to save health-care dollars and find reasons either to encourage their patients to opt for assisted suicide or perform it without their consent.

The Dutch are skidding down the very slippery slope to becoming a culture of death, rather than one that values life and nurtures it tenderly to the very end. Those in Quebec -- and the rest of Canada -- who have voiced enthusiastic support for Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde's right-to-die bill might want to watch events unfolding in the Netherlands and give sober second thought to whether this is what they want Canada to look like. The answer should be a resounding no.

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