Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not Dead Yet: Articles concerning "mobile euthanasia teams" is inaccurate

Stephen Drake, the research analyst for the Disability rights group, NOT DEAD YET, published an excellent commenary on their blog, last Thursday, about the article in the Associated Press concerning the new push in the Netherlands for "mobile euthanasia teams." It appears that the Dutch euthanasia lobby believes that people with disabilities would benefit from "mobile teams" coming to a persons home and lethally injecting them.

NOT DEAD YET not only comments on the concept of "mobile teams" that will euthanize the unfortunate people with disabilities, but they also commented on the clearly false statements by the Associated Press. Please read the following article that is reprinted for your pleasure.

New Move to Expand Euthanasia in the Netherlands - Associated Press and DutchNews.nl misrepresent Dutch practice.

It's hardly news when word comes out from the Netherlands that either the government, medical professionals or some private organization are seeking to expand the scope of the euthanasia laws. After all, the consistent trend in the Netherlands has been to expand the practices of euthanasia and assisted suicide by expanding eligibility criteria, as we've written about here, here and here.

It's also not unusual for the newswire reporters to disseminate articles on assisted suicide, euthanasia, and the Netherlands that are just factually wrong - often egregiously. The Associated Press, in spite of having a code of journalistic ethics it claims to adhere to, is one of the most consistent offenders. The AP, in fact, went so far as to conduct a poll on Kevorkian and assisted suicide that was factually incorrect, corrupting the validity of the poll responses. The AP then used its own flawed poll as news that they themselves covered, acting as both newsmaker and reporter - an unacknowledged conflict of interest if ever there was one.

Well, there's a new story out of the Netherlands and - as I said - it's really quite unremarkable that a group is trying to expand the practice of euthanasia. But the coverage so far actually is quite remarkable in that I haven't read one news account that describes the so-called "strict guidelines" for euthanasia eligibility in the Netherlands accurately. And one of those news sources is actually quite disturbing.

First here's the intro to the news from the Associated Press, titled Dutch group proposes 'mobile' teams:

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The main Dutch euthanasia advocacy group says it supports creating "mobile" euthanasia teams of doctors for terminally ill patients who want to die in their own homes, rather than in a hospital.

The Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2001 in cases where patients are suffering unbearable pain due to illness with no hope of recovery. (The italics above were added for emphasis.)
A careful reader might notice that the two descriptions of "patients" given in the first and second sentences don't match. Anyone who is actually familiar with the euthanasia eligibility criteria in the Netherlands will know that neither description is correct. Some of the media sites this appeared on included the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and cbsnews .

Did no one notice that one sentence stated that it's terminally ill people who can get euthanasia while the other sentence asserts that "patients who are suffering unbearable pain due to illness with no hope of recovery" qualify for euthanasia?

As I said, neither definition is correct - and I'll provide that definition with an authoritative source at the end.

What really surprised me about this is that when I did my search, what I found - for once - the AP reporter who wrote this didn't generate the misinformation on his or her own (or lift it from previous erroneous AP articles).

This time at least some of the misinformation was generated by a Dutch news source. News sources in the Netherlands tend to be biased - naturally - in favor of the euthanasia practices in that country, but are generally accurate when describing the "strict guidelines" and eligibility criteria.

Not this time. Here is how eligibility is described in the DutchNews.nl article titled Voluntary euthanasia group plans to set up 'help to die' teams:
Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands under strict conditions. For example, the patient must be suffering unbearable pain and the doctor must be convinced the patient is making an informed choice. The opinion of a second doctor is also required. (Emphasis added.)
In fact, there is no requirement that a person be in actual pain to be able to be "helped" with euthanasia. All that is required is that they have "unbearable suffering" - a broad, hard-to-define and very subjective term that has fueled the expansion of euthanasia practice in that country.

Don't take my word for it. You can download a pdf document from this site on the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport that spells out the rules. I lack the ability to cut and paste content from a pdf document to this blog, but here's a summary from a different section of the same Ministry that summarizes the guidelines:
The greatest care has been taken to regulate care for patients who are suffering unbearably with no prospect of improvement. Euthanasia may only be carried out at the explicit request of the patient.
Neither this summary or the longer version in the pdf document linked above mention "pain" or "terminal" as necessary to "qualify" for euthanasia.

Maybe it's simple laziness and incompetence (that explains a lot of the lousy reporting in the US) or maybe this particular Dutch news organization just figured if the AP and other news organizations insist on misrepresenting euthanasia in the Netherlands, they'd just play along for consistency's sake.

I plan on sending a link and copy of this blog entry to both the AP and to DutchNews.nl; experience tells me that there'll be no reply from the AP. I wonder if DutchNews.nl will follow suit on that as well. --Stephen Drake

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