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Legalization of euthanasia approved by Dutch lawmakers

LONDON (BP)–Concerned reaction from around the world has greeted Dutch lawmakers’ April 10 vote to legalize euthanasia, with opponents expressing concerns about the implications for the most vulnerable in society and doubts about the safeguards incorporated into the new law, CNSNews.com reported April 11.

“Banning intentional killing protects each of us impartially, embodying the belief that all are equal, whether they are young or old, fit or sick, able or disabled,” said Peter Millard of the British organization Alert (Against Legalized Euthanasia — Research and Teaching).

“By legislating for euthanasia, the Dutch government has undermined the very nature of their society,” he added. “How safe would you feel if you knew that your doctor carried in his bag the instruments of death as well as life?”

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children saw the Dutch move as part of a “culture of death” also manifested in the killing of children “in the course of experiments, fertility treatment, post-coital birth control or surgical abortion.”

SPUC spokesman Dominic Baster said in London April 11, “The only way to prevent further proliferation of a pro-death culture is to defend the fundamental premise that human life, at every stage and in every situation, possesses an inherent dignity of itself.”

Pro-life campaigners have questioned various aspects of the new law, which when it takes effect later in April will make the Netherlands the first country in the world to offer legal euthanasia.

It will enable a doctor to kill a patient who is experiencing unbearable suffering, following certain laid-down procedures. The doctor has to report the case, and a committee will establish whether the guidelines have been adhered to.

Cry for Life, a Dutch pro-life group which organized protests outside the Senate as the vote took place, said April 11 the regional review committees would base their assessments on reports drawn up by the doctors, who are unlikely to incriminate themselves.

The Christian Medical Association in the United States also picked up on the point.

“It all sounds so libertarian until you realize that the real autonomy lies not with the patient, but with the doctor,” said executive director David Stevens in a CMA statement. “And once the deed is done, the chief witness to the crime is dead.”

The International Taskforce on Euthanasia noted that until now the burden of proof has been on Dutch doctors to justify ending patients’ lives.

“The change in the law shifts the burden of proof to the prosecutor who will be required to show that the termination of life did not meet the requirements of due care. The prosecutor will not receive information about any euthanasia death unless it is forwarded by a regional committee.”

Each committee will comprise at least one lawyer, one physician and one expert on ethical or philosophical issues — a person with expertise regarding the “discussion on the prerequisites for a meaningful life.”

The law requires a person to be suffering unbearable pain before a doctor may — at the patient’s persistent and independent request, and after getting a second opinion — administer a lethal injection.

Opponents voiced fear that the most vulnerable members of society would suffer.

“Instead of helping and standing with the weak and old, the parliament has chosen the route of the survival of the fittest,” said Cry for Life’s president, Bert Dorenbos.

In Canada, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said it opposed the new law “because it will result in significant abuse of vulnerable Dutch citizens who are not dying.”

“The essential factor for requesting euthanasia in the Dutch legislation is that a person be experiencing unbearable suffering,” the coalition’s president, Barrie deVeber, said. “Since the law does not require that a person be terminally ill in order to be euthanized, individuals who are not given appropriate pain and symptom management will be candidates for euthanasia.

“Essentially this law protects physicians and nursing care providers who lack the knowledge and expertise necessary for excellence in patient care, rather than protecting their patients,” he said.

The law also allows incompetent patients to be euthanized, provided they had expressed this desire in writing earlier, when of sound mind.

As a result, said the Canadian coalition’s executive director, Alex Schadenberg, it “fails to protect vulnerable citizens in the Netherlands and calls into question the integrity of the Dutch euthanasia model.”

The International Taskforce on Euthanasia pointed out that a written statement requesting euthanasia may have been made years earlier, while a patient’s views may have since changed.

The task force also questioned the terminology used in the Dutch law, which requires that a doctor “has terminated a life or assisted suicide with due care.”

“This requirement — that the procedure be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion — transforms the crimes of euthanasia and assisted suicide into medical treatments,” it said.

“This is not a question of who will have the right to die,” said the CMA’s Stevens. “It’s a question of who will have the power to kill.”

The 14,000-member CMA conducted intensive research in the Netherlands, interviewing experts as well as family members who have suffered the consequences of involuntary euthanasia. It produced a video and provided testimony for Congress on the Dutch model.

An Australian euthanasia proponent, Philip Nitschke, has been awaiting the Dutch vote in the hope he can use a Dutch-registered ship to offer euthanasia in international waters off the coast of Australia.

“Our foundation is looking into the legal implications of the Dutch decision as it affects practice in international waters,” Nitschke said from Australia April 11.

Nitschke gained prominence when he helped four terminally ill patients commit suicide using a “death machine” — comprising a computer, syringe and tubes — after Australia’s Northern Territory state briefly legalized the practice in 1996.

Australia’s federal parliament overturned the Northern Territory law less than a year later.

During the debate in the Dutch Senate, Health Minister Els Borst-Eilers reportedly said the Netherlands would resist attempts like that planned by Nitschke.

“If the Netherlands will be involved in any way, be it with a Dutch ship, or with Dutch doctors, I will in cooperation with my Australian colleagues prevent it,” she was quoted as saying.
Goodenough is the London bureau chief for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Patrick Goodenough