Euthanasia in the Netherlands: The Real Story

GOP presidential candidate Santorum made the wrong kind of headlines a few weeks ago when he spouted the wrong kind of information on euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Among the claims he made were these:

That 10 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands are due to euthanasia.

That half of those deaths — or five percent of all deaths in the Netherlands — are people who are euthanized involuntarily.

Santorum also said that people are euthanized involuntarily because they are old or sick and further claimed that elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go into hospitals out of fear that they will not come out if they go in there sick — because of “budget” reasons — and rather go to other countries. Finally, that elderly in the Netherlands wear bracelets that say “Do not euthanize me.”

When a reporter from the Dutch television station RTL4 repeatedly pressed Santorum’s press secretary, Alice Stewart, to clarify Santorum’s incorrect figures and distorted statements about Dutch euthanasia laws and statistics, Stewart repeatedly refused to even acknowledge the question. At least three times she said “Rick is strong pro-life from conception to natural death,” or a variation thereof.

As far as I can tell, to-date, Santorum has neither apologized for nor corrected the false, misleading and offensive remarks and statistics.

While people are probably sick and tired of hearing over and over again about Santorum’s gaffes, I believe that when an entire country and its people are so mischaracterized and misrepresented by “one of our own” the least we can do is present the facts and the truth.

Well, the “Science Times” section of the New York Times has done just that.

Interwoven with the story about a somewhat controversial euthanasia advocacy group, “Right to Die-NL,” — a group that has created “mobile euthanasia teams to help patients die at home” — are the following facts and figures:

• Polls find that an overwhelming majority of the Dutch believe euthanasia should be available to suffering patients who want it, and thousands formally request euthanasia every year.

• Under the Netherlands’ 2002 Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act, doctors may grant patients’ requests to die without fear of prosecution as long as they observe certain guidelines. The request must be made voluntarily by an informed patient who is undergoing suffering that is both lasting and unbearable. Doctors must also obtain the written affirmation of a second, independent physician that the case meets the requirements and report all such deaths to the authorities for review.

• Almost 80 percent of [euthanasia] deaths take place in patients’ homes, according to the Royal Dutch Medical Association. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, doctors reported 3,136 notifications cases of “termination of life on request.” Serious illnesses — late-stage cancer, typically — lie behind a vast majority.

• Euthanasia is responsible for about 2 percent of all deaths annually in the Netherlands, according to Eric van Wijlick, a policy adviser for the association.

Finally, Mr. van Wijlick says that the euthanasia law is possible because of “the moderate and open climate we have in the Netherlands, with respect for other points of view.

According to the Times, van Wijlick acknowledges that it would be difficult to have this law elsewhere, because everyone in the Netherlands has access to health care, an income and housing.

“There are no economic reasons to ask for euthanasia,” he said, something that might not be true in the United States, with its for-profit health care system.

With respect to Right to Die-NL, even the open-minded, pragmatic Dutch think the group may be going too far. (The group is even “pushing to give all people 70 years old and over the right to assisted death, even when they are not suffering from terminal illness.”)

The Royal Dutch Medical Association and other organizations in the Netherlands have also voiced concerns about possible misapplication of the current law and possible liberalization of the law. According to the Times, “The conservative government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said there will be no changes to the law under its tenure.”

Read more here.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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