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Euthanasia: we can live without it

Dutch MP flags new extension to euthanasia laws.

Dutch MP flags new extension to euthanasia laws.

Dutch News is reporting that the media hype over the idea of euthanasia for a 'completed life' that has been going on for more than a year, now has a legislative backer in D66 Mp, Pia Dijkstra.

This idea was the subject of a government inquiry that followed years of lobbying by the NVVE - the Dutch euthanasia lobby - going back to 2010 and even earlier.

A 'completed life' euthanasia is essentially where an elderly person (over 70 or 75 years of age) who has no definable terminal illness but, perhaps, the accumulation of the 'niggles' of aging, can ask to be made dead. The inquiry recommended that the government not proceed with the idea - but that has not stopped agitation. Dutch Health Minister Edith Schippers told the Dutch Parliament in October that she was making plans to legalise 'assisted suicide for elderly people who were 'suffering from life' (gotta love the euphemisms!). No such plans have yet emerged.

Nor has it actually held back on euthanasia deaths for such reasons. The Dutch Euthanasia Clinic, which began operating in 2012, has been implicated in a number of controversial cases including a number in their first year of operation where 21 of the 162 euthanasia deaths at the clinic were done based on 'Tired of Life' - another name for 'Completed Life'.

Dijkstra's proposal looks to making euthanasia available for anyone with an 'intrinsic and consistent' wish to die and would be carried out by a 'registered end-of-life practitioner' - a doctor, nurse or psychologist, according to Dutch News. 'Anyone' - if the newspaper quote is accurate - is far broader than the health minister's suggestion, but it does fit with one of the two euthanasia lobbies' suggestions. In otherwords, any pretence that safeguards about confirming 'untreatable and unbearable suffering' relating to a terminal illness or injury would simply evaporate. The Dutch will have achieved the ultimate end-game and logical conclusion of euthanasia and assisted suicide - anyone, anytime, any reason.

Dijkstra told Nieuwsuur: ‘There are plenty of examples of people who say, “I’ve had enough of life, I have children and grandchildren, they’re all doing well, but I’m detached, I don’t play a role in their lives any more. The only thing waiting for me is decline and I don’t want to go through that.”’ Indeed. Aging does bring on moments of melancholy, but hardly reason for the law and the medical fraternity to propose and endorse a death wish.

But that's precisely the kind of talk that both feeds off and amplifies sentiments such as those expressed by The Guardian's columnist, Michele Hanson in her recent article entitled: I'd rather die than be a burden on my daughter - like many people.

Hanson opens her column with a succinct description of her thinking:

"I’m getting increasingly frightened of growing older. It would be fine if I could remain fairly healthy, ambulant and in possession of all my marbles, but not if I’m bedridden, incontinent and demented. I’ve been sounding out my chums to see if any of them might be willing to smother me, if I end up in such a state. Because a) I don’t want to live like that, b) I don’t want my daughter having to look after me, and c) I don’t want to end up in a “care” home, frittering away any money I have left."

Hanson's comments are an endictment on the UK aged care system and also the silence in our community that is very much the elephant in the room when it comes to general attitudes about aging and support for the elderly. But they also reflect the reasons people give for requesting assisted suicide in places such as Oregon USA. It's not about pain; it's about fear of a loss of autonomy, of being a burden, of losing control.

Hanson talks about caring for her own mother in her declining years. Paradoxically, full of praise for the care and support they both received, Hanson repeats her mother's increasing cries of "I'm a bloody nuisance! I want to die." One would expect that both Hanson and her mother would probably qualify under the new Dutch proposals.

This brings us back, inexorably, to the phenomenon of Elder Abuse and the possible relationship between subtle and even not-so-subtle abuse of an elder that encourages or pressures such people towards being made dead by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

People like journalist Andrew Denton have tried to dismiss this idea that elderly people could be pressured into requesting euthanasia by falling back on the 'two doctors' assessment process and the fact that 'granny', as he puts it, would still need a terminal disease under most legislative proposals raised in Australia.

But this is to deny the reality. Reality such as that experienced by Melbourne doctor Karen Hitchcock and so eloquently laid out in her Quarterly Essay contribution in 20155. She recalled:

"Almost every day an elderly patient will tell me - with shame - that they are a burden or a nuisance, that they're taking up a hospital bed someone else needs. They apologise for being a pain, a drain, for wasting my valuable time, for being sick and needing help."

This is how it is. Life is not hermetically sealed; Denton's version of Utopia simply does not exist. Elder Abuse points clearly not only to sinister motive and intention but also to subtle - and perhaps even unintended - pressure, such as described above by Hitchcock.

Hanson's observations and thoughts are not isolated either - she is no orphan. 'Almost every day' in Hitchcock's words, should surely warn us that Hanson's meme has taken hold in our society; that providing an 'easy-out' as the Dutch seem intent to do, is not the answer. It can only ever feed the monster, not subdue it.

Dijkstra's proposal is yet to be presented to the Dutch Parliament but is online for comment. There's a general election coming up in March 2017 and the cynic in me thinks that Dijkstra is playing politics with this issue. If so, it's politics of posturing on a matter that would seem to have broad agreement anyway.

Which brings me to reflect on the history of the Dutch experience with killing its citizens - it fits well with the saying that governments rarely run ahead of or contrary to the zeitgeist.

There was a time not so long ago when it was quite common to hear euthanasia enthusiasts defend the Dutch experience, dismissing the cases that were pushing at the boundaries by affirming that the law works well and that these extraneous cases were few, were outside the law and should be dealt with by the law. One rarely hears such assertions these days - its simply not sustainable given the passage of the years, the mounting evidence and the inexorable extension that logically follows the perception that there is a 'right to die' or, rather, a 'right-to-be-made-dead'.

Dijkstra knows she's on a winner. The NVVE have made the case over a long period of time. They have created the 'pressure to liberalise further' by their campaigning. If the Dutch Parliament acts on this latest proposal it will have little if any public or political backlash.

Professor Boer observed: "Once a law has been established it will create its own demand, it will create its own dynamics; which means that, in The Netherlands, at this moment, there is still an enormous pressure to liberalise further."

See also:

The 'right-to-die' or the 'right-to-kill'? Hitchcock replies to Denton.
Dutch euthanasia law needs reform. Euthanasia is granted to people who have years to live.
"Tired of living" and dementia are common reasons for euthanasia at Dutch euthanasia clinic.
New Dutch push for suicide pill

 

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