Study Shows Rise in Deep Sedation Used as Euthanasia in the Netherlands

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 9, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Study Shows Rise in Deep Sedation Used as Euthanasia in the Netherlands Email this article
Printer friendly page

RSS Newsfeed

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 9
, 2008

Amsterdam, Netherlands ( — A new study of the use of euthanasia in the Netherlands finds the number of patients killed via deep sedation is on the rise. Deep sedation involves using drugs to make terminally ill patients unconscious until death and the study finds doctors and patients are substituting it for euthanasia.

Researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam found 1,800 people — or 7.1 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands in 2005 — involved deep sedation.

That percentage rose from 5.6 percent of all deaths involving deep sedation in 2001 while, during the same time period, euthanasia death fell from 2.6 percent of all deaths to 1.7 percent.

Judith Rietjens of Erasmus University told Reuters, “The increased use of continuous deep sedation for patients nearing death in the Netherlands and the limited use of palliative consultation suggests that this practice is increasingly considered as part of a regular medical practice.”

The study also found about 10 percent of those who received deep sedation had previously requested euthanasia or assisted suicide but had been rejected.

American author and attorney Wesley J. Smith commented on the recent research.

“Demonstrating the subversive nature of the euthanasia/assisted suicide movement on proper medical care, Dutch doctors are switching from lethally injecting patients to sedating them into a permanent coma so they die by dehydration over a period of days or weeks,” he said.

Smith said he thinks physicians are changing the way they kill patients so they don’t have to be present during the actual death and assuage their consciences.

“I suspect that Dutch doctors are switching euthanasia methods because in formal euthanasia, they have to be present at the bedside at death,” he explained. With euthanasia, “they watch as the killing actions they take terminate life. With terminal sedation, they don’t have to be present.”

Smith said he is upset that doctors are using a method that normally helps patients to kill them.

“This intentional co-opting of a proper palliative measure, rarely needed, at the very end of life–known as palliative sedation–in which the disease causes death, not dehydration, is scandalous,” he concluded.

“But why should we be surprised? The killing agenda corrupts all it touches.”