Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The Dutch have been pushing the envelope for years when it comes to who they are willing to euthanize, but the latest case of a woman who was killed because of her macular degeneration have many wondering what has become of medical ethics in the Netherlands.
Wesley J. Smith, J.D., a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, said the woman, in her eighties, was euthanized because of her impaired vision and other symptoms of advancing age. Smith found the case in the 2010 annual report issued by the five regional euthanasia review committees in the Netherlands.
“The patient, a woman in her eighties, could no longer do the things that made life worthwhile to her,” the report stated. “She lived on her own. She had always enjoyed intellectual challenges in her life, she used the computer and email and she liked reading, philosophising, debating, politics, art and so on. She had always been very independent and had considered this her greatest asset.
“Physically, however, she was deteriorating. In recent years her vision had got worse owing to macular degeneration, she suffered from dizziness, her hearing was poor and she sometimes had fecal incontinence.”
The woman tried to cope with her increasing limitations but was unsuccessful and life no longer seemed worthwhile. “She felt trapped in her deteriorating body. Her present situation was due to her advancing age, and little or nothing could be done about it. She felt her life had lost all meaning. However, her mind was still active, and she thirsted for information,” the report said.
“She considered it a blessing that she could end her life with the help of euthanasia and would not have to become dependent. The unbearable nature of her suffering was due to her loss of the ability to live a meaningful life.”
None of her symptoms were remarkable for persons of advanced age, Smith writes, but adds that these depressed states in the elderly are treatable with proper geriatric psychiatric interventions.
“But there was no indication whatsoever that treatment by a geriatric psychiatrist – who might also have killed her, now that I think of it – was even attempted,” Smith said.
According to the report, a psychiatrist was the first independent physician to be consulted and this doctor noted that despite the patient’s poor hearing he was able to interview her successfully.
“She was lucid and was well oriented to time, place and person,” the report said. “The interview did not reveal any memory problems. The patient was coherent and responded appropriately to questions. She was able to explain why her disabilities (deafness, impaired vision and dizziness) prevented her from living her life as she had always done….According to the second independent physician’s report, the patient wanted to end her life (or have it ended) because she was suffering from being alive.”
It’s no wonder the Dutch reported a 19 percent increase in assisted suicides in 2010, rising from 2,636 in 2009 to 3,136 in 2010. Their “guidelines” allow doctors to euthanize not just the terminally ill, but also the chronically ill, such as those with diabetes or heart disease. The emotionally and mentally ill can be killed, as well as infants with serious disabilities.
Also included in the 2010 numbers were 21 early-stage dementia patients who were euthanized by lethal injection, calling into question whether “guidelines” which require a patient’s ability to make an informed choice and to voluntarily request death could possibly have been met.
Despite these sad statistics, advocates of euthanasia refuse to acknowledge the slippery slope they have slid too far down already.
In fact, there are actually groups in The Netherlands who are now fighting to legalize euthanasia, which they call “dying assistance,” for those 70 and older for reasons of “humanity.”
If this isn’t the culture of death, nothing is.
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