The Washington Post published a very well researched article by Charles Lane on August 19, 2015 titled: Europe’s sinister expansion of euthanasia. This same article was republished in the National Post and several other major newspapers.
Lane examined the date from the recent research concerning the Belgian euthanasia law. I have written similar articles, but to his credit, Lane has been published by major newspapers.
Lane first examines the data from a Study: concerning 100 requests for euthanasia for psychiatric reasons in Belgium. Lane remarks that:
Between October 2007 and December 2011, 100 people went to a clinic in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region with depression, or schizophrenia, or, in several cases, Asperger’s syndrome, seeking euthanasia. The doctors, satisfied that 48 of the patients were in earnest, and that their conditions were “untreatable” and “unbearable,” offered them lethal injection; 35 went through with it.
These facts come not from a police report but an article by one of the clinic’s psychiatrists, Lieve Thienpont, in the British journal BMJ Open. All was perfectly legal under Belgium’s 2002 euthanasia statute, which applies not only to terminal physical illness, still the vast majority of cases, but also to an apparently growing minority of psychological ones. Official figures show nine cases of euthanasia due to “neuropsychiatric” disorders in the two-year period 2004-2005; in 2012-2013, the number had risen to 120, or 4 percent of the total.
Lane then examines the data from a study concerning the: First Year of the End-of-Life Clinic for Physician-Assisted Dying in the Netherlands. Lane states that:
… the Netherlands, which decriminalized euthanasia in 2002, right-to-die activists opened a clinic in March 2012 to “help” people turned down for lethal injections by their regular physicians. In the next 12 months, the clinic approved euthanasia for six psychiatric patients, plus 11 people whose only recorded complaint was being “tired of living,” according to a report in the Aug. 10 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.
If you find this sinister, I agree. Bioethicists Barron H. Lerner and Arthur L. Caplan, who reviewed the data from the Low Countries in JAMA Internal Medicine, observe that the reports “seem to validate concerns about where these practices might lead.”\
Lane emphasizes that the Belgian study admits that decisions for euthanasia are based on undefined criteria:
Thienpont acknowledges that “the concept of ‘unbearable suffering’ has not yet been defined adequately” and that “there are no guidelines for the management of euthanasia requests on grounds of mental suffering in Belgium.”
Yet she and her colleagues continue to put the mentally ill to death, insisting that they are respecting their wishes — though, as she writes, “further studies are recommended.”
Lane then uses the example of Frank van den Bleeken, the Belgian prisoner who was serving a life sentence for murdering and raping. van den Bleeken was approved for lethal injection for reasons of psychological suffering because he considered living in prison for the rest of his life was too great a level of suffering. Lane states:
Thienpont’s co-author Wim Distelmans, a leading advocate of euthanasia, has ended the life of a 44-year-old who was anguished, but not terminally ill, due to a botched sex-change operation. Distelmans also put to death identical 45-year-old deaf twins who said they lost the will to live upon learning they would eventually go blind.
Frank van den Bleeken, imprisoned for 30 years for rape and murder, sought euthanasia from Distelmans, citing his incurable violent impulses and the misery of life behind bars. Belgian officials and Distelmans initially agreed; a lethal injection the murderer might have gotten as punishment in the United States would be supplied as therapy in anti-death penalty Europe.
In January, however, Distelmans backed out just before the scheduled procedure — there was still hope for van den Bleeken to get treatment at a facility in the Netherlands, he said.
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Distelmans faced little accountability either way. The body empowered to scrutinize his actions, after the fact, was Belgium’s Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission — of which he is co-chairman. It has reviewed thousands of cases since 2002 but referred exactly none to law enforcement.
Lane ends the article by quoting from the Lerner and Caplan commentary:
The “very worrisome” trends in Europe “should give us pause” about where the “assisted dying” movement might lead in this country, Lerner and Caplan write.
To be sure, by authorizing doctors to administer lethal drugs, in terminal and non-terminal cases, the Benelux countries go far beyond laws in Oregon and four other states, which permit physicians to prescribe, not administer, a fatal dose — and only in cases of terminal physical illness.
Charles Lane has done his homework. Euthanasia has gone through multiple extensions. The types of euthanasia deaths that are happening in the Netherlands and Belgium would have been considered abuses of the law, if they had occurred in the first years.