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Mobile Euthanasia Clinics Begin Deadly Work in the Netherlands

by | Mar 2, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Starting today mobile euthanasia clinics (Levenseinde or “life end”) are criss-crossing the Netherlands to euthanize patients whose own physicians refuse to do so. The scheme is the brainchild of the Dutch Association for a Voluntary End to Life (NVVE), a 130,000-member euthanasia organization said to be the largest of its kind in the world.

The NVVE is “filling a gap,” according to its spokespeople. The Netherlands not only was the first to legalize euthanasia, it has also extended its parameters steadily since 2002. However (as least for now) doctors cannot be forced to kill their patients, hence the six teams set to roam across the Netherlands.

“Little is known about the Life End teams,” the Guardian newspaper reports. “But one of the team leaders is believed to be a 67-year-old retired doctor who carried out 20 mercy killings during his medical career.”

“We are not against euthanasia if there is no other alternative,” said Eric van Wijlick, a policy advisor for the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG). However, the KNMG has “distanced itself from the NVVE initiative, arguing that giving it the name Life End will foster the idea that it is for those who it said are simply ‘weary of life, rather than those who are sick,” the Guardian reports.

The NVVE expects a brisk business, predicting around 1,000 assisted suicide requests per year. They “have already been phoned by 70 potential patients since the plan was announced in early February,” according to a story carried by the Agence France-Presse.

Walburg de Jong, a NVVE spokesman, said the assisted suicide begins with an infusion or injection of a sleep-inducing drug, followed by a barbiturate to stop a patient’s heart and breathing. These “house calls’ will be provided free of charge, deJong said.

The number of what are very loosely and misleadingly called “mercy killings” in the Netherlands is a subject of fierce debate, with proponents saying there are 2,300 to 3,100 annually and opponents insisting the number is much higher. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, wrote about this on his blog this week. Here are some excerpts:

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  • The Dutch are very specific concerning what euthanasia is, and what it is not. The Dutch define euthanasia as a voluntary act that is done on request. More recently the NVVE (Netherlands euthanasia lobby) has announced that they will begin to implement “Mobile Euthanasia Units” that will be oriented to euthanizing people who have dementia, who have disabilities, or who have been turned down by other doctors. It is also considered acceptable for Dutch Psychiatrists to euthanize their patients for “loneliness.”
  • The number of official euthanasia deaths has increased significantly over the past few years. In 2010 it is reported that there were 3,136 official euthanasia deaths which was up by 19% over 2009 and 2009 increased by 13% from 2008.
  • The 3,136 official euthanasia deaths do not include the assisted suicide deaths; it does not account for the approximately 20% under-reporting; and it does not include the deaths of people who were not otherwise dying but died by intentional dehydration.
  • A 2005 study of End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that death by dehydration had increased significantly from 2001. In 2005, 7.1% of all deaths in the Netherlands were done by deep-continuous sedation followed by dehydration. Recent reports suggest that death by deep-continuous sedation followed by dehydration has risen to approximately 10% of all deaths in the Netherlands. Some of the 7.1% of deaths by deep-continuous sedation followed by dehydration are cases of euthanasia by dehydration.

When a person, who is not otherwise dying, is intentionally sedated and dehydrated to death, that death is clearly an act of euthanasia (euthanasia by dehydration or slow euthanasia), even though the definition used in the Netherlands does not recognize euthanasia by dehydration as euthanasia.

*The 2005 study of End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that in 2005 there were 550 deaths without explicit request or consent in the Netherlands.

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The Guardian newspaper ended its very sympathetic story with a quote from nearby Germany.

“In neighbouring Germany, where mercy killings are strictly illegal, euthanasia opponents were particularly vocal in expressing their outrage at the developments. ‘This is an inhumane proposal,’ said the German Hospice Foundation, while the group Life Rights for Everyone called it a ‘warped understanding of [the meaning of] autonomy.’”

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Categories: Euthanasia