Euthanasia barrels forward in the Netherlands
Europe’s terminally ill feel pressure to die
A woman in the U.K. received a terminal diagnosis 15 years ago that left her feeling depressed and suicidal. Alison Davis considered traveling to Switzerland to end her life through that country’s legal assisted suicide program and looked into the cost of the procedure. But she changed her mind thanks to the support of her doctor and family, and she lived on for the better part of a decade.
Before Davis died, she became an advocate against laws that would have made it easier for her to end her life, supporting the U.K.-based Care Not Killing, which opposes euthanasia around the world.
“As she would point out, many people in her position who get a diagnosis are hugely fearful and scared about what is coming,” said Alistair Thompson, a spokesman for the organization. “Rather than giving people the keys to the drugs cabinet, what we should be doing is treating that and supporting them to come through that.”
Lawmakers in the Netherlands are now considering legislation that would further liberalize that country’s already permissive euthanasia laws. The proposed bill would allow healthy patients over the age of 75 to agree to assisted suicide simply because they no longer wish to live. The Netherlands first legalized euthanasia in 2002, ostensibly to provide “relief from suffering to people with terminal conditions,” Thompson noted. The original laws came with nebulous promises saying they would never lead to doctors denying people treatment and would not detract from palliative care.
“The reality is, we are seeing people who have clinically treatable conditions … people who are disabled, who with good support can live normal lives, and yet they are being euthanized,” Thompson said, adding that assisted suicide has weakened the country’s focus on palliative care, an approach that attempts to improve overall wellness and provide relief from pain.
The proposed new law would extend the definition of “unbearable suffering” to include elderly people who are weary of life. They can obtain assisted suicide if they’ve had a persistent desire to die for at least two months.
“We know that with every movement of the law there continues to be pressure to go another step and another step and eventually … even people who are not asking for it … will start to be euthanized,” said Thompson.
He pointed out that another supporter of Care Not Killing was told a decade ago he had only 12 to 18 months to live. He is still alive today.
“What we should be doing is supporting people like [them] … rather than saying, ‘What you should do is consider killing yourself,’” Thompson said
The Dutch bill is headed to a judicial advisory committee, where it will stay for at least three months before parliament debates and votes on it. A push for similar legislation failed in 2016, and the country’s two Christian parties continue to oppose it this time around.
The Royal Dutch Medical Association also opposes the law.
In an article published in 2017, the group wrote about the foreseeable problems of this legislation: “Another concern among our members includes potential undesirable effects on society as the result of the proposed legislation, such as the elderly feeling at risk, or the stigmatization of old age.”
Rather than treating death as a solution for the aging, the association proposed the government invest in “solutions that directly address the feelings of meaninglessness experienced by the elderly.”
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