Saturday, December 17, 2011

The latest from the Netherlands: Euthanasia house calls

The Netherlands, a country that resisted the Nazis 70 years ago is increasingly implementing their policies. As reported by Simon Caldwell in the London Daily Telegraph, December 6, 2011:

Mobile euthanasia teams being considered by Dutch government
Plans to introduce mobile medical teams that can euthanise people in their own homes are being considered by the Dutch government.

The teams of doctors and nurses would be sent out from a clinic following a referral from the patient's doctor.

The proposals were disclosed by Edith Schippers, the health minister.

In a written answer to questions from Christian Union MPs she said that mobile units "for patients who meet the criteria for euthanasia but whose doctors are unwilling to carry it out" was worthy of consideration.

"If the patient thinks it desirable, the doctor can refer him or her to a mobile team or clinic," the minister wrote.

In her written answer Ms Schippers suggested that "extra expertise" could be summoned in complicated cases involving mental health problems or an inability to consent to euthanasia because of dementia.

Dutch advocacy groups want to expand the eligibility criteria for euthanasia as well as open facilities specifically for euthanasia along the pattern of the Dignitas centre in Switzerland.

Hundreds of Britons have either made the journey to Switzerland to end their lives or registered with the clinic.

Phyllis Bowman, a pro-life campaigner in Britain, said that the proposals amounted to a "campaign to speed up euthanasia and to make it cheaper by doing it at home instead of in institutions".

The Netherlands legalised euthanasia in 2001 in cases where patients are suffering unbearable pain due to illness with no hope of recovery.

Euthanasia is usually carried out by administering a strong sedative to put the patient in a coma, followed by a drug to stop breathing and cause death.

To qualify patients must convince two doctors they are making an informed choice in the face of unbearable suffering.

Dutch medics have been accused of practising euthanasia on demand.

A total of 21 people diagnosed as having early-stage dementia died at the hands of their doctors last year, according to the 2010 annual report on euthanasia.

The figures from last year also showed another year-on-year rise in cases with about 2,700 people choosing death by injection compared to 2,636 the year before.

A Dutch government spokesman said: "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."

As for that last statement, I offer two words in response: "Yeah--right." According to Mr. Caldwell's report in the Daily Telegraph on June 20, 2010, not only has the use of euthanasia increased since it was legalized by the Dutch government in 2002, but the health minister responsible for the legislation is now regretting that euthanasia has had the effect of destroying palliative care:

Euthanasia cases in Holland have increased by 13 per cent in the last year, new figures have shown.

Last year a total of 2,636 Dutch people were killed by euthanasia, with 80 per cent of cases involving people dying at home after their doctors administered a lethal dose of drugs.

This compares to 2,331 reported deaths by euthanasia in 2008, which saw a 10 per cent rise on 2007.

In 2003, the year after Holland became the first country in the world to legalise the practice since the fall of Nazi Germany, there were 1,815 reported cases.

Euthanasia is usually carried out by administering a strong sedative to put the patient in a coma, followed by a drug to stop breathing and cause death. To qualify patients must be in unbearable pain and their doctor convinced they are making an informed choice. The opinion of a second doctor is also required.

Dutch medics have been accused of applying a liberal interpretation of the law and practising euthanasia on demand, sometimes killing people who cannot properly consent.

Jan Suyver, chairman of the government's euthanasia monitoring commission, said the rising number of cases came as the "taboo" once attached to euthanasia began to fade.

"It could also be that doctors are more likely to report it," he said.

Anti-euthanasia groups say, however, that the sharp increase is probably be linked to the collapse of the palliative care system in the Netherlands following the legalisation of euthanasia eight years ago.

Phyllis Bowman, the executive officer of Right to Life, said: "I am sure that the increase in numbers of people opting for euthanasia is largely a result of inadequate pain control."

The rise in cases in 2008 has prompted the Dutch health ministry to launch an inquiry into the working of the 2002 law and it is due to open its investigations by the end of the month.

Dr Els Borst, the former Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who guided the law through the Dutch parliament, said in December that she regretted that euthanasia was effectively destroying palliative care.

Dr. Borst's regret is understandable, although a decline in palliative care is a natural and foreseeable consequence of the increased use of euthanasia. Why bother with weeks or months of palliative care when you can short-circuit the process with one injection?

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