Assisted Suicides on the Rise in Europe

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 4, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicides on the Rise in Europe

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 4, 2003

Paris, France ( — Europe’s permissiveness towards euthanasia is revealed in a new study showing that the number of assisted suicides there is on the rise.

The study, published in the British weekly journal The Lancet, focuses on more than 20,000 deaths in six European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands.

The study, led by the Dutch researcher Agnes van der Heide at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, examined those who died who were 80 years or older.

Approximately one-third of deaths involved doctors withholding treatment or prescribing drugs for the patient that would hasten death. Only two-thirds of the deaths were by natural causes.

The number of euthanasia deaths may be higher as many doctors may be unwilling to report such illegal practices

In Switzerland, euthanasia deaths accounted for 51 percent of those who died, the highest in the study. Italy had the lowest, 23 percent.

The other countries were closer to Switzerland in terms of the percentage of deaths in which euthanasia or assisted suicide were a factor: 38 percent in Belgium, 41 percent in Denmark, 44 percent in the Netherlands and 36 percent in Sweden.

Most of the euthanasia deaths involved withdrawal of treatment. The percentage of deaths involving drugs prescribed to hasten death were low and accounted for about 1 percent of deaths in Denmark and 3.4 percent in Holland.

Nancy Valko, a leading pro-life nurse in the U.S. who monitors end-of-life issues, says the results depend on what was defined as natural deaths and doctor-induced deaths.

"From my experience, it seems likely that such studies include such ethically allowable ‘end of life’ decisions as appropriate DNR orders, withdrawal of truly futile or burdensome treatments and necessarily high doses of pain medications along with deliberate decisions to hasten death in an attempt to convince people that hastening death is routine and widely accepted," Valko explained.

"From there, it’s just a short step to convincing people that active euthanasia is just another medical option to hasten death," Valko concluded.

Another study published in the Lancet, also conducted by Dutch doctors, claims the demand for assisted suicide and euthanasia has not risen since 1995 when doctors began tolerating the practice.

Euthanasia became legal in Holland in April 2002, the first country to legalize it nationwide. In 2002, 1,882 cases of euthanasia were reported there, compared with 2,054 cases in 2001 and 2,123 the previous year.