Lancet study proves increase in Dutch euthanasia deaths

The long awaited 2010 nationwide examination of the euthanasia law in the Netherlands was published in the July 11 Lancet. The study found:

the number of euthanasia deaths has grown significantly since 2005 (4050 in 2010, 2425 in 2005);

the under-reporting of euthanasia in the Netherlands has grown since 2005 (23 per cent in 2010, 20 per cent in 2005);

there is a growth in deaths by terminal sedation (12.3 per cent in 2010, 8.2 per cent in 2005);

the percentage of requests for euthanasia being fulfilled has increased (45 per cent in 2010, 37 per cent in 2005);

the number of deaths without request or consent has decreased (300 in 2010, 550 in 2005).

The media decided to ignore the significant growth in the number of euthanasia deaths since 2005, by reporting that the current percentage of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands is similar to the percentage of euthanasia deaths in 2001, before it was officially legalized.

Euthanasia in the Netherlands was first legalized through court decisions in the Netherlands. In 1984, the Supreme Court in the Netherlands established a set-of-criteria that should be followed for a physician to cause the death of a person by euthanasia without fear of prosecution.

From 1984 to 2002 a series of legal decisions led to a widening application of euthanasia. The courts allowed euthanasia for people living with chronic depression (mental pain), to children who were born with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups.

In 2001, the Netherlands parliament officially legalized euthanasia along the guidelines that were approved by the successive court decisions. The law officially came into effect in April 2002. However, euthanasia and assisted suicide were common before being legalized in the Netherlands.

In 2003, the first full-year of legal euthanasia, there were 1815 reported cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands. In 2010, there were 3136 reported cases of euthanasia. There is an approximate (20-23 per cent) rate of under-reporting, nonetheless, based on the reported number of euthanasia deaths, there has been a 73 per cent increase in euthanasia deaths since 2003.

The rate of increase of reported euthanasia deaths has accelerated over the past few years with a 19 per cent increase in 2010 and a 13 per cent increase in 2009.

The continued increase in the number of euthanasia deaths may be partly explained by the increase in the number of euthanasia deaths that are carried out after request. In 2005 37 per cent of requests for euthanasia were fulfilled while in 2010 45 per cent of requests were fulfilled.

There has also been a 50 per cent increase in the number of deaths by terminal sedation since 2005. Terminal sedation is usually done by sedating a person and withdrawing fluids and food. Palliative sedation is different than terminal sedation, because with palliative sedation the intention is to allow natural death to occur. Terminal Sedation is viewed by some people as an alternative to euthanasia. When a person is not otherwise dying, the act of terminal sedation is more accurately a form of euthanasia and should be referred to as “slow euthanasia.”

The Medical Daily reported “rates of euthanasia are steady since 2002 legalization.” Fox News reported, “little change in Dutch euthanasia post-legality,” while ABC Australia reported, “euthanasia number remain the same after legalization – study.” Clearly, the media bought into a common position based on the press release from the Lancet, rather than reading the study to uncover significant concerns.

A thorough response was written by Dr. Peter Saunders, campaign director for the Care Not Killing Alliance in the United Kingdom which  focused on the incredible shift towards the use of Deep Continuous Sedation (Terminal Sedation) in order to keep the number of euthanasia deaths officially low.

The rate of euthanasia in the Netherlands has increased by 73 per cent in the last 8 years (1815 reported deaths in 2003, 3136 reported deaths in 2010) and even more important, the rate of euthanasia has increased by almost 35 per cent in the past two years (2331 reported deaths in 2008, 3136 reported deaths in 2010).

Combined with the growth in the use of terminal sedation for people who are not otherwise dying “slow euthanasia” and the slight increase in the number of unreported euthanasia deaths, one must conclude that there are abuses occurring in the Netherlands.

On March 1, a euthanasia clinic in the Netherlands launched six mobile euthanasia teams in the Netherlands. The NVVE euthanasia lobby in the Netherlands, announced that they anticipate that the mobile euthanasia teams would complete 1000 euthanasia deaths per year.

The mobile euthanasia teams plan to fill unmet demand for euthanasia for people with chronic depression (mental pain), people with disabilities, people with dementia/Alzheimer, loneliness, and those whose request for euthanasia is declined by their physician.

Similar to the previous euthanasia reports (1990, 1995, 2001, 2005) the 2010 report uncovers significant concerns related to the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide is not safe and the safeguards that are devised to control euthanasia do not protect the dying, but rather they protect the doctor.

Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. This article originally appeared on his blog, on July 16 and is reprinted with permission.

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