On July 11, the Lancet published the long-awaited 2010 euthanasia statistics based on a meta-analysis by a group of researchers.
I responded to the report by publishing an article titled: Lancet study proves significant increase in euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands.
Most of the media reported that the 2010 euthanasia statistics in the Netherlands are similar to the euthanasia numbers from 2001, before legalization. This position was based on the conclusion in the study that stated:
“8 years after the enactment of the Dutch euthanasia law, the incidence of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is comparable with that in the period before the law.”
Is this a true statement?
Euthanasia in the Netherlands was originally legalized through court decisions. 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 or assisted suicide without fear of prosecution.
From 1984 to 2002 a series of court decisions in the Netherlands led to a widening application of euthanasia. The courts allowed euthanasia for people living chronic depression (mental pain), to children who were born with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups.
In 2001, the Netherlands parliament official legalized euthanasia along the guidelines that were approved by the successive court decisions. The law officially came into effect in April 2002. Therefore euthanasia and assisted suicide were common before being legalized in the Netherlands.
The 2001 report:
The 2001 report
determined that there were approximately 3800 (2.6% of all deaths) deaths by euthanasia with only 2054 of those deaths being reported. This means that only 54% of all euthanasia deaths were reported. The 2001 euthanasia report was the final meta-analysis of the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide before it was actually legalized in 2002.
Media reports concerning the 2010 report:
reports focused on the 2010 euthanasia report stating that 4051 deaths by euthanasia and assisted suicide occurred in 2010 stating that since euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands in 2002, that there has only been a minor rate of increase in deaths by euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Are the media reports true?
1. The 2010 euthanasia report made an error in its mathematical calculation.
2. The 2010 report indicates a continued trend to the use of deep-continuous sedation, also known as terminal sedation, over euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Deep-continuous sedation is done by sedating the person and usually withdrawing fluids and food. When the person is not otherwise dying, death will often be caused by intentional dehydration, which is also known as “slow euthanasia.
Deep-continuous sedation must be differentiated from palliative sedation, which is a practice of sedating a person who is experiencing intractable pain or uncontrolled distress. Palliative sedation is proportionate to the need to relieve the distress of the person with the intention allowing a natural death to occur.
The 2001 euthanasia report indicates that approximately 5.6% of all deaths in the Netherlands were related to deep-continuous sedation. The 2005 euthanasia report
indicates that approximately 8.2% of all deaths in the Netherlands were related to deep-continuous sedation. The 2010 euthanasia report indicates that approximately 12.3% of all euthanasia deaths are related to deep-continuous sedation.
How often are deaths by deep-continuous sedation done to intentionally cause the death of a person who was not otherwise dying?
The rate of deep-continuous sedation has more than doubled in the Netherlands since 2001 and has risen by 50% since 2005.
* After the legalization of euthanasia in 2002, there was an evident shift from death by euthanasia to death by deep-continuous sedation, also known as terminal sedation.
* The use of deep-continuous sedation has in fact accelerated while the trend towards fewer deaths by lethal injection has reversed whereby the number of euthanasia deaths is greater than the 2001 statistic even thought the number of deaths by deep-continuous sedation has more than doubled in that time.
Euthanasia in the Netherlands:
The rate of euthanasia in the Netherlands has increased by 73% 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% 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
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