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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17 Comments

  1. My state of Oregon passed the death with dignity act in 1997. Since that time 596 people have used it. Many more have been approved and received the drugs but have not used them. Some stats:
    97% were white
    81% had cancer
    69% had some college or a degree

    Santorum is a religious nut case and hypocrite concerned about life before birth and at the time of death but not for the period in between. I have never thought of myself as a bigot but I may have to make an exception for the Catholic Church.

  2. Does Medicare cover trips to Oregon.

  3. “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 said Dorian. Unfortunately, candidates like Santorum consider the truth to be little more than an annoyance. It makes our entire country look bad.

  4. Dd, what do you have in mind? Sorry dude, you’re need here.

  5. From an Oregon study comparing the Oregon “Death with Dignity” law and the Netherland’s laws.

    http://www.leg.state.vt.us/rep.....m#Section1

    The practice of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is still illegal – a criminal offense – in the Netherlands.[126] The common law and now the legislation, however, have created an exemption from criminal liability for doctors who meet certain criteria.
    ….
    The criteria developed by the Dutch courts became codified in 2001 with the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act.[142] This act amends sections 293 and 294 of the Dutch criminal code to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide where a doctor meets the due care criteria and informs the local medical examiner of his or her actions.[143] The due care criteria are:

    The doctor must have been convinced that the patient’s request was sincere and voluntary;

    The doctor must have been convinced that the patient’s suffering was both hopeless and unbearable;

    The doctor must have consulted with the patient about his or her situation and his or her prospects;

    The doctor and the patient together must have come to the conclusion that no alternative is realistically available;

    The patient must have been seen by at least one impartial doctor, who must have given his or her opinion, in writing, about the first four criteria; and

    The doctor must have carried out the euthanasia or assisted suicide with due care.

    In addition, the statute sets up ethics committees to assess the doctor’s conduct based on the information provided to the local coroner.

  6. Thanks, Ohioan.

    Here is a more recent (Sept. 2009) interpretation by Radio Nederland Worldwide:
    http://www.rnw.nl/english/arti.....etherlands

    In 2002, the Netherlands decriminalised euthanasia in cases where very strict criteria are met. This change in the law has been widely misreported abroad.

    Here are the essential facts about the Dutch policy on euthanasia.

    - What is the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide?

    Assisted suicide is the process by which an individual, who may otherwise be incapable, is provided with the means (drugs or equipment) to commit suicide. In some cases, the terms ‘aid in dying’ or ‘death with dignity’ are preferred.

    The term ‘euthanasia’ refers to an act that ends a life in a painless manner, performed by someone other than the patient. This may include withholding common treatments resulting in death, removal of the patient from life support, or the use of lethal substances or forces to end the life of the patient.

    - Is euthanasia legal in the Netherlands?

    Yes and no. In April 2002, the Netherlands introduced a new law on euthanasia, becoming the first country in the world to legalise the practice within strict boundaries. Euthanasia remains a criminal offence, but is decriminalised if all of the very strict criteria are met.

    - What are the criteria for decriminalisation?

    The due care criteria which must be met in order to obtain exemption from criminal liability require that the attending physician:

    • be satisfied that the patient has made a voluntary and well considered request

    • be satisfied that the patient’s suffering is unbearable, and that there is no prospect of improvement has informed the patient about his or her situation and prospects

    • has come to the conclusion, together with the patient, that there is no reasonable alternative in the light of the patient’s situation

    • has consulted at least one other physician, who must have seen the patient and given a written opinion on the due care criteria referred to above, and

    • has terminated the patient’s life or provided assistance with suicide with due medical care and attention.

    The doctor must also report the cause of death to the municipal coroner in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Burial and Cremation Act.

  7. Thanks, Ron. I didn’t know that

  8. thanks Dorian. It’s important to cover this shilling for the ultraconservative bishops’ agendas. Santorum is not supported by this Catholic, not by many by a long shot. We want to live in Truth far away from flackdom, not in ‘political truthiness’ propagated by those who have ambitions to be elected to whatever dirt hill they aspire to. I notice that newt and rick santorum both seem to want to be preachers. Let them have at it then. No POTUS. Rather, go to seminary. Earn it.

  9. Thanks, Z, not right now, but I would like the choice and availability, and I would like the trip to be a covered expense (one way of course).

  10. well said, Dr. E.

  11. That was a nice round of kudos this morning, Dr. E.

    I certainly appreciated your words, and I am sure all the other contributors do, too.

    While we all love to write, it is the appreciation from readers that mostly keeps us going — certainly no $$$’s here –and coming from la Jefe Redactora, it is icing on the the cake.

  12. Dd, as would I. Heck, family pets often receive more end of life compassion than humans, who often end up paying obscene amounts of money for a final two weeks of very low quality life.

    No hurry, but when the time comes? I’d like to have the option and be able to exercise it while conscious. Re: the ticket… one way to OR maybe, but don’t rule out another trip on the mandala. ;-)

    “We want to live in Truth far away from flackdom, not in ‘political truthiness’ propagated by those who have ambitions to be elected to whatever dirt hill they aspire to.”

    Amen sister.

  13. Z, second best thing is a good hospice (or perhaps the first best thing, since Oregon can be cold and rainy).

  14. Beleid can be odd here (in the Netherlands). Most people also don’t realize that marijuana is in no way (technically) legal, either. It’s just not enforced. They have a word for it, they call it Gedoogbeleid. Essentially, toleration policy.

  15. Goede aanmerkingen, dmf. Ben jij een Nederlander? Another example, the so-called “red light district(s)”: beleid zone (There are other beleid zonen and examples)

  16. Bedankt! Nee, ik ben een Amerikaanse expat. I’ve been here for about a year and a half. In Delft, just outside Den Haag. Moved here right from DC. (I used to live in Ezra Klein’s ‘hood.)

    (Incidentally, this just came across my RSS feed today. It sounds like a good read.)

    The Dutch do have a spot in their cultural hearts for the US. As a group, they really like “American-ness”, even if they’re pissed at Americans at the moment. Which makes this whole Santorum craziness especially interesting. I imagine “the Dutch” standing there with upturned palms at the US saying “What the hell, guys?”

  17. @dmf

    Thanks for getting back. You are picking up Dutch real well. A difficult language, isn’t it? Love Delft! A beautiful city. Every time we go back to Holland, my wife has to go there and pick up some more of that “blauw”

    Went to your link about “De Grote Americashow.” What a small world. I knew the author, Tom-Jan Meeus, when he was a correspondent for the NRC Handelsblad. He was following the F-35 JSF program (The Netherlands are in that multinational program) and he stayed with us here in Texas. If you get the chance to talk to him, give him our best wishes.

    You are right, the Dutch have always been staunch friends, admirers, supporters of the U.S. Recently, however, our attitudes towards them and Europe in general don’t seem to be so reciprocal.

    Thanks for your comments

    Dorian

    P.S. As a contributor to TMV, I can see your e-mail address to provide personal feedback on comments to my posts. However, I never use such without first asking permission. If you wish, I’ll send you mine, if you are interested in chatting more.

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