Voluntary Euthanasia in Netherlands
Let me first add my name to Gretchen Niver’s remark about the Scott Kim’s (NIH bioethicist) remark regarding the claim in the Associated Press report regarding Voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands. Indeed, “who is he … to decide whose life is worthwhile?” This is a mistake commonly made by ethicists regarding voluntary euthanasia. It is not the doctor who decides whether someone’s life is worthwhile. The doctor’s function is solely to ensure that the patient fulfils the legal requirements for assisted dying. It is the patient who decides when life is not worthwhile. Full stop. Half of all requests for assisted dying or Voluntary Euthanasia in the Netherlands are turned down. This does not mean that the lives of those who are turned down are worthwhile to those who requested assisted dying?
Also important is to note that the AP issued a correction on 3 August 2017, regarding its claim that “Voluntary Euthanasia has become “common practice” in the Netherlands.” What the report says (with its only use of the word ‘common’) is that “The use of potentially life-shortening medication and continuous deep sedation to relieve end-of-life
suffering has become common practice in the Netherlands.” (my emphasis) Nevertheless, in its correction, the AP story leaves the word ‘common’ in the text, beginning instead with “Voluntary Euthanasia has become a common way to die in the Netherlands,” even though the word occurs only once in the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. I think we have a right to question the use of the word ‘common’ in this context. If something happens 4.5 times (on average) out of 100 cases, is that properly described as common? Of course, it depends, but here’s a comparison. in 2014 there were 163,444 deaths in the UK. Of that number fully 86,500 were due to cancer, or roughly 53%. It would be right to say that cancer is a common cause of death in the UK. Alcohol related deaths in the same year in the UK numbered 8,697, or roughly 5%. Are alcohol related diseases a common way to die in the UK? I think not.
The quote from Penney Lewis is just as misleading. “If you legalize on the broad basis (that) the Dutch have, then this increase is what you would expect.” What broad basis? Intolerable and irremediable suffering? What [disturbing?] increase? I think that the claim of increase being made is implicitly qualified (and was believed to be so qualified by Maria Cheng, the author of the AP story). Whether disturbing, surprising, distressing, or troubling, it begs for some unjustified qualification, if view of the word ‘common’ in the first sentence.