Mississippi is not alone in the modern debate over the sanctity of life. More than 4,000 miles away, the Netherlands is caught up in its own controversy over a proposal from the Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) to expand the definition of who may qualify for assisted suicide — including for the first time such nonmedical factors as loneliness and financial struggles.
“Many older people have various afflictions that are not actually life-threatening but do make them vulnerable,” wrote the KNMG in a ten-year study report published in October.
“Vulnerability stems not only from health problems and the ensuing limitations, but also the measure in which people have social skills, financial resources and a social network. Vulnerability has an impact on quality of life and on prospects for recovery, and can lead to unbearable and lasting suffering.”
Prior to publishing the study results, the KNMG polled its members online. More than 68 percent agreed with the statement that doctors should be “permitted to factor in vulnerability, loss of function, confinement to bed, loneliness, humiliation and loss of dignity” when determining whether a patient is a good candidate for euthanasia.
Only 45 percent agreed that “a medically classifiable condition is a prerequisite for performing euthanasia or assisted suicide.”
Derek Humphry, founder of the Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization and an advisor to the Final Exit Network, sees the Dutch proposal as a sign of progress.
“I welcome the Dutch move towards allowing euthanasia for elderly people who are also sick and wish to die,” Humphry told The Daily Caller. “Any broadening of the guidelines must be carefully considered, and I believe this is what the Dutch are doing.”
American bioethicist Wesley Smith disagrees.
“This whole assisted suicide euthanasia issue is a symptom, not a cause,” Smith told TheDC. “I think it’s a symptom of a society that has decided that it can’t establish moral standards.”
Euthanasia is only an option in The Netherlands for adult patients who have made voluntary, informed requests to die — and face unbearable suffering without another alternative. A second doctor must be consulted.
But Dutch news outlets reported on Nov. 9 that a woman with advanced dementia was euthanized in March without the ability to fully give her consent for the procedure. She “was a long-time supporter of euthanasia but became unable to make this clear as the disease progressed,” reported the news agency DutchNews.nl.
“Now you have a woman who did not ask to be killed, and did not have the competence to asked to be killed, euthanized anyway,” an incredulous Smith added.
This is not the first such case in the Netherlands. Dutch doctors end the lives of around 800 people each year without the patient’s permission, he contended.
Dutch physicians are not required to perform euthanasia on a patient who qualifies for the procedure. However, by law they must either refer the patient to another doctor or provide him or her with information about how to commit suicide on their own.
How have Dutch physicians reacted to this requirement? Smith says “most doctors just try to keep their heads down.”
Government statistics show more people in the Netherlands are opting for Euthanasia each year. Last year 2,700 people chose to die by injection, up from 2,636 in 2009.
The tide in America is shifting as well, Smith added. He recalled a woman with a self-described mental illness who declared, after he gave a speech in California, that she had the right to an assisted suicide. Half the audience applauded.
In the face of changing conventional wisdom about suicide, Smith worries about living in an America “that ceases to be a forest and has become just a bunch of trees standing next to each other.”
“That’s not how we care for each other. That’s not how we love each other. That’s how we abandon each other.”