A Case against Dutch Euthanasia

Article excerpt

A Case Against Dutch Euthanasia

Dutch general practitioners perform voluntary active euthanasia on an estimated 5,000 patients a year; the larger figure cited of 6,000 to 10,000 patients probably also includes hospital patients. However, figures as high as 18,000 or 20,000 cases a year have been mentioned. The population of The Netherlands being 14 1/2 million, the lowest Dutch figure published would correspond to about 80,000 cases of active euthanasia a year in the United States; the highest published Dutch estimate (20,000) would be tantamount to over 300,000 cases annually for the U.S. 81 percent of Dutch general practitioners have performed active euthanasia at some time during their professional careers; 28 percent perform active euthanasia on two patients yearly, and 14 percent on three to five patients every year. In Holland, the causes of death of people suffering from AIDS are different from those of patients with AIDS in other countries as 11.2 percent of Dutch AIDS patients die by active euthanasia.

Many people in The Netherlands carry a will requiring active euthanasia to be performed on them "in case of bodily injury or mental disturbance of which no recovery to reasonable and dignified existence is to be expected." Recently, the paper wills have begun to be replaced by small, handy plastic cards nicknamed "credit cards for easy death" by the Dutch press. In 1981 the number of people carrying such cards was reported to be 30,000, but is supposedly much higher now.

The law that would legalize euthanasia is a major issue in Dutch politics. Of the eleven political parties in Holland, ten have included the issue of euthanasia in their electoral platforms. Government coalitions rise and fall because of agreement, or disagreement, concerning euthanasia. Some representative headlines: "Majority of the Lower House (of Parliament) for Euthanasia"; "Coalition Splits on the Plan for Euthanasia"; "No Waiting Till the Elections: Christian Democractic Alliance and VVD (the Liberals) Want the Law on Euthanasia"; "The Parliamentary Fraction Sticks to the Euthanasia Bill of D-66: Conflict Looms Within the Liberal Party"; and, "Political Consensus on Euthanasia."

Acceptance of "voluntary" active euthanasia by the Dutch people is growing. According to two consecutive polls, 70 percent of the Dutch people accepted active euthanasia in 1985, and 76 percent in 1986. This is interpreted by the media as a vote for human freedom (including the freedom of the individual to decide upon his or her life or death), but the reality is more complex. An analysis of public opinion reveals other, and quite different attitudes, in particular, views that oppose the individual's freedom of choice and support society's right to cut short a person's life. Thus, there is considerable public acceptance of the view that life-saving treatment should be denied to the severely handicapped, the elderly, and perhaps to persons without families. Further, opinion polls show that a majority of the same public that proclaims support for voluntary euthanasia, freedom of choice, and the right to die, also accepts involuntary active euthanasia--that is, denial of free choice and of the right to live.

In Holland, the most prominent persons on the medical scene are at the same time leading figures in the movement to legalize euthanasia. The late Prof. Dr. P. Muntendam held both the chairmanship of the State Committee on Legal Reform of the Medical Profession and the presidency of the Dutch Society for Voluntary Euthanasia. The long-time president of the latter society, Dr. Helen Terborgh-Dupuis, has been offered the chair in medical ethics at Leiden University. Her inaugural lecture was entitled, "Dood wordt te negatief gewaardeerd" (death is being judged in too negative a way). Holland's leading specialist in pediatric oncology, Prof. P.A. Voute, recently revealed that since the early 1980s it has been his practice, at times without the parents' consent, to provide some of his patients with doses of poison, enabling them to commit suicide when they feel so inclined. …