A Dutch expert on euthanasia has not only stopped supporting the death practice and the euthanasia law for which he campaigned, but he has made the reasons for his about-face public—something usually frowned upon in Dutch circles.
Professor Theo Boer held a unique position for seeing how the country’s euthanasia/assisted-suicide law, enacted in 2002, actually worked. For nine years, Boer, a medical ethicist, was a member of one of five Dutch regional review committees charged with investigating all reported euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths for the government to see if each case complied with the law.
In an article Boer submitted to London’s Daily Mail—in the hope of persuading Britain’s House of Lords not to pass an assisted-suicide law (see p. 6)—Boer said he and his colleagues were “terribly wrong” when they concluded five years after the Dutch euthanasia law took effect that there was no “slippery slope” associated with that law.
Starting in 2008, the numbers of induced deaths began increasing 15% each year. By 2012, the euthanasia review committees recorded 4,188 deaths (compared to 1,882 in 2002), and Boer expects the reported annual death count to reach 6,000 this year or next year at the latest.
“Euthanasia is on the way to become a ‘default’ mode of dying for cancer patients,” he wrote, and there’s been a sharp increase in the deaths of people with psychiatric illnesses or dementia, and those simply suffering from grief, loneliness, or age. “Some of these patients could have lived for years or decades,” he explained.
There have been other undeniable signs of a serious ethical slide due to the law. One example he cites is the “End of Life Clinic,” established by the Dutch Right to Die Society (NVVE) that sends out teams of euthanasia doctors to end the lives of those who have been denied an induced death by their own doctors. These mobile doctors, Boer wrote, do not have an established relationship with patients, having only seen them three times before terminating those patients’ lives. NVVE is also relentlessly campaigning for a “lethal pill” for anyone over 70 years of age.
According to Boer, the Dutch law “sees assisted suicide and euthanasia as the exception,” but “public opinion is shifting towards considering them rights, with corresponding duties on doctors to act.” A new law being drafted would place added pressure on doctors who refuse a death request to refer the patient to a “willing doctor.” “Not even the Review Committees, despite hard and conscientious work, have been able to halt these developments,” Boer wrote.
Finally, Boer implored Britain’s Parliament not to pass the assisted-suicide bill currently being considered before looking closely at the Dutch experience, suggesting that “the mere existence of such a law is an invitation to see assisted suicide and euthanasia as a normality instead of a last resort.” “Once the genie is out of the bottle,” he wrote, “it is not likely to ever go back in again.” [Boer, “Don’t make our mistake,” Daily Mail, 7/9/14]
[Summer 2014, Vol.28, No.4, Patients Rights Council Update, http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/update-071-volume-28-number-4-2014-4/ ]