Monthly Archives

January 2015

Europe’s Euthanasia Craze

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First Things 9 January 2015
The case of Frank Van Den Bleeken—the Belgian murderer and rapist who requested to be euthanized rather than spend life in prison—has provoked its fair share of comment. And rightly so, for the facts of this case are shocking. But far more shocking is the rapidly growing euthanasia culture that made this whole affair possible. The increasing normalization of euthanasia is just one of many social trends that reveals a Europe that is becoming profoundly estranged from its Judeo-Christian heritage. As that happens, European societies are losing the moral and spiritual anchor with which to resist the gradual slide into a complacent nihilism.
When Bleeken’s request to be euthanized was granted, much of the outrage came from those who insisted that he should be forced to serve his full life sentence in prison. There was remarkably less comment on the fact that the authorities were granting a euthanasia request to someone who was not terminally ill—the fifty-two year old is not in any physical ill health. But as it happens, Bleeken’s request will not go ahead for the moment as the doctor who was to carry out the procedure has pulled out on the grounds that “certain legal due diligence” had not been followed.
So Bleeken has been saved from his request on a technicality, not because anyone in authority thought there was anything inherently wrong with what he was asking for. After all, this is just the latest high profile euthanasia case to have come out of Belgium in recent years. Many of these cases have been unspeakably sad. There was the individual who chose to be euthanized following a sex change operation, but who spoke mostly of having been unwanted as a child. And then there were the Vebessem twins who had lived all their lives together, both deaf, but who feared they might also go blind. Following these cases, the Belgian parliament determined that euthanasia is such a universal good that it should be made available for children.
In the case of child euthanasia, Belgian law stipulates that “the patient must be conscious of their decision and understand the meaning of euthanasia.” If not so appallingly tragic, such a provision would be laughable. But in neighboring Holland, sickly infants are now being killed on the grounds that it is distressing for parents to watch them suffering, and the Royal Dutch Medical Association estimates that 650 such newborns are terminated each year.
In those countries that have legalized euthanasia (Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg) the numbers seeking the procedure are spiraling ever upward. In 2013 there were 1,087 cases of euthanasia in Belgium, up 27 percent on the figures for 2012, while 2012 saw a 25 percent increase on the numbers for 2011. A third of those undergoing euthanasia in 2013 were under sixty, and some sixty-seven cases involved euthanasia on mental health grounds, which must surely raise some question about the validity of the term “consent.”  In Holland, it has been estimated that 12.3 percent of all deaths are now via euthanasia, with the number of mentally ill patients killed by this method having trebled in the space of a year. In all, it is thought there were around six thousand cases in 2014. Recent incidents included one woman with an eating disorder, and another claiming to be suffering from tinnitus left behind two teenage children.

'Assisted dying' & public opinion

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Care Not Killing 18 July 2014
There is ample poll data showing that the majority of the British public support legalising assisted suicide (AS) in principle.
The former Voluntary Euthanasia Society (now rebranded Dignity in Dying) claims a figure of 80% although it has previously been argued that such levels of support are uncommitted, uninformed and unconvincing.
However, there has been very little poll data gauging public attitudes in light of the various empirical and rational arguments against AS. That is, until now.
An extraordinary new poll has demonstrated that public attitudes change dramatically once some of the key practical implications of AS are considered.
euthanasia - graph support & opposeIn a new Comres/CARE poll published today and reported by the Daily Telegraph respondents were presented with the following scenario:
‘A new Bill is due to be debated in the House of Lords which is designed to enable mentally competent adults in the UK who are terminally ill, and who have declared a clear and settled intention to end their own life, to be provided with assistance to commit suicide by self-administering lethal drugs. Two doctors would need to countersign their declaration and be satisfied that the person has a condition which cannot be reversed by treatment and is reasonably expected to die within 6 months. In principle would you agree or disagree with this proposal?’
73% agreed (38% strongly), 12% disagreed and 14% were in the ‘don’t know’ category.
So far there’s nothing that surprising. It would be odd for people not to be moved by some of the tragic stories of the ‘hard cases’ and to say they support a means of alleviating such suffering.
But then those who supported AS in principle were asked which of the following arguments would make them change their minds. Each statement below was randomised throughout the survey in order to assess which argument moved opinion the most.
The answers were truly astounding.
Overall 42% of those who originally supported the bill changed their mind on the basis of at least one of the arguments.
When these were added back into the original sample, aggregating all who opposed as a result of the arguments put to them, and incorporating all who still supported AS having heard each argument, they found the following:
43% support AS, 43% oppose it and 14% don’t know.
So hearing the arguments against AS causes support for AS to collapse from 73% to 43% – that is, to less than half!

Here are the arguments with the percentage change each cause on those who initially backed Falconer’s proposals.

1. The risk of people feeling pressurised into ending their life early so as not to be a financial or care burden on loved ones, as has happened in the US where more than six in ten of those requesting a lethal prescription in Washington State (where the law is similar to that proposed in the House of Lords debate) say that one of their reasons for doing so was not to be a burden on friends, family or caregivers

On hearing this 47% of those who originally backed Falconer’s proposals would still do so, but 28% would oppose him and 25% did not know.

2. Changes in the law to allow assisted suicide and/or euthanasia in other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland have led to a steady annual increase in the number of cases and spread of the practice to involve people with chronic but not fatal diseases, disabled people, children and those with mental illnesses and dementia

58% would still support, 21% would oppose and 215 didn’t know.

3. Concerns that end-of-life care would be likely to worsen under financial pressures because it costs on average £3000 to £4000 a week to provide in-patient hospice care, but just a one-off cost of £5 to pay for the drugs which would help them commit suicide

59% would still support, 15% would oppose and 27% didn’t know.

4. All major disability rights advocacy groups in Britain oppose a change in the law to permit assisted suicide including Disability Rights UK, SCOPE, UK Disabled Person’s Council and Not Dead Yet UK

63% would still support, 12% would oppose and 25% didn’t know.

5. Surveys consistently show the majority of doctors oppose a change in the law to permit assisted suicide, as does the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Geriatric Society and the Association for Palliative Medicine

65% would still support, 10% would oppose and 25% didn’t know.


Polls consistently show between 70% and 80% in support of AS. However, the issue is clearly far more complex than a simple ‘support’/’oppose’ question can do justice to. This polling strongly suggests that when offered evidence about the nature or source of opposition to AS, and some of the key arguments against it, this high level of support rapidly dwindles.
The most powerful argument in swaying the public was that changing the law would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a burden on friends, family or caregivers, as has been the experience in the US state of Washington and Oregon.
In short, support for AS looks to be extremely soft and generally uninformed.

We cannot have "zero suicides" if we allow euthanasia

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The Telegraph 20 January 2015
Nick Clegg wants to end suicide. At a mental health conference on Monday he called on every part of the NHS to help reduce the current rate of 4,700 people a year. “Suicide is, and always has been, a massive taboo in our society,” he told the audience. “People are genuinely scared to talk about it, never mind intervene when they believe a loved one is at risk.”

In this he follows the World Health Organization, which has long pointed to suicide as an international problem. They point out that more than 800,000 people every year die by suicide worldwide. As the WHO noted in 2000: “Suicide should not be depicted as a method of coping with personal problems …Instead, the emphasis should be on mourning the person’s death.”
Yet the campaign against suicide throws up questions about assisted dying, which was debated in the House of Lords last week. Here we find another example of the “massive taboo” that people are scared to talk about. That is: isn’t assisted dying really suicide? How can we wage a war against suicide for some whilst encouraging it as a legitimate choice for others? Though the Lords voted down an amendment to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying bill that would have changed the term to “assisted suicide”, and though Dignity in Dying insists otherwise, it is difficult to argue that what is being proposed is not essentially suicide. Ingesting poison in a room with the intent to die does not magically become “assisted dying” if the poison is prescribed. Over the border in Scotland, the similar proposed legislation was called – less euphemistically – the “Assisted Suicide” bill.
Those who support assisted dying but not suicide must ask why they approve of a terminally-ill person taking her life when they take a zero tolerance approach to other suicides. The similarities are there. Most of the reasons put forward for allowing assisted death can be reasons for any suicide. If autonomy is important, why isn’t the autonomy of those without a terminal illness? Many if not most suicides reflect an attempt to end suffering, just as the Falconer Bill wishes to do in the terminally ill. The reasons why people take their lives under the US state of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, the model for Falconer’s bill,reflect existential issues around loss that can be felt by anyone – of autonomy, of enjoyment of life’s activities, of dignity. Pain didn’t make it into the top five. Many of the 4700 suicides Clegg referred probably took their lives because they, too, felt the remainder of their lives unbearable.
If assisted dying is suicide, then the effect of the Falconer Bill is very clear. It will treble suicides amongst the terminally. Extrapolating from the example of Oregon, Dignity in Dying estimate that 1000 people per year will opt for ingesting poison if the Falconer Bill passes. But they estimate that there are currently about 330 suicides by terminally-ill people in Britain. Right now suicide is legal in Britain; with encouragement and assistance – who knows? – we might get the rate even higher.

Desperate death wish

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Stuff 18 January 2015
TO END her life with dignity, without violence and at a time of her choosing is Hamilton woman Faye Clark’s final wish as she helplessly watches terminal cancer eat its way through her bones.
The 71-year-old’s new reality of intense medication, chemotherapy and constant pain has been slowly closing in on her since her 2009 diagnosis.
A new study shows New Zealand is overwhelmingly in support of people like Clark ending their lives legally, with the help of a doctor.
Auckland University researchers published their findings in the Journal of Palliative Medicine last month.
Assisted dying is legal in several European countries and some parts of the United States. This study’s researchers say despite regular debate in New Zealand, little has been known about what people think and why.
Findings show people are most in favour of assisted dying in situations where dignity is lost.
Clark doesn’t have depression and is thankful for the interventions that have kept her alive – but she can feel her body has had enough, and so has she.

Teach Your Children: Assisted Suicide and My Family

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Public Discourse 14 January 2015
Rich and I come from a very large family. My paternal grandparents had eight children, twenty-four grandchildren, sixty-five great grandchildren, and over a hundred great-great grandchildren. Then there were my grandmother’s siblings and their families, my grandfather’s siblings and families, and my mother’s family. There were hundreds in our family—not even counting in-laws!
Over the years, we lost grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Some of us lost children and even grandchildren. We have experienced virtually every kind of end-of-life scenario. While there is always a measure of sadness—especially when suffering and death come unexpectedly—the deaths of our family members were always marked with a celebration of life. Therein lies the paradox. With each death, we feel diminished. Yet, with the realization of the fullness of our loved one’s life, we feel more fulfilled.
Rich’s Story
My cousin Rich is a bright intellectual. For many years, he was the president of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce. He poured his life into service, founding two charities and serving on the boards of six others. He served on numerous state commissions, working to improve New Jersey’s literacy, employment, and natural resources. Rich was also the founder of Meadowlink, the finest transportation management association in the United States. Always a gifted writer, Rich was a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he helped develop a program to allow the New York Giants’ football players to complete a college education. He forged long-time friendships with some of those players, including George Martin, the captain of one of the Giants’ Superbowl teams.
Nine years ago, in October 2005, at the age of fifty-five, Rich Fritzky was suddenly and brutally stricken with Neisseria Meningitis, a particularly deadly disease. He slipped into a coma, and his wife and twelve children were told that he would die within a matter of days. In fact, the physicians who cared for him said it was impossible for him to survive. Yet he remained in a coma for four months. During that time, every one of his major organs, at one time or another, failed to function. His heart stopped. His kidneys failed, and he flat-lined.
His wife was told that, if by some miracle he were to survive, Rich would never recognize her or their children again, nor would he be able to have a cognitive thought. The physicians thought Rich’s family should pray for his death, not for his life.
They prayed for his life.
While in the coma, Rich’s heart had to endure six weeks of fever that reached 107 degrees—six weeks during which he had to be packed in ice. For six months, the physicians continually repeated that Rich’s death was imminent. On one occasion, when I visited the comatose Rich, his face had necrosed. It was entirely black. For six months, Rich Fritzky did not move, did not breath, did not swallow, and did not speak.
But Rich came out of his coma. He awoke to find that both of his legs had been amputated, as well as all ten of his fingers. His hospitalization lasted fifteen months and included a vigorous and painful rehabilitation, a failed effort to fit prosthesis, continual bouts with infections, and difficult-to-manage bed sores. Although the illness left his body broken and scarred, his mind and wits were as keen as ever, and he loved his family more than ever before.
When he returned home, the man with no fingers had to teach himself to type. His pain was often excruciating, and he had many subsequent hospitalizations and operations. Three years ago, he was forced to endure dialysis three days a week. Last summer, after a number of false starts because of infections and weakness, he successfully underwent a kidney transplant, donated by one of his sons.
Rich went back to his teaching job at Fairleigh Dickinson. Over the past four years, he has written three books and helped two other authors to write theirs. His children finished their education, and one of his sons is currently finishing medical school. In recent years, on at least three separate occasions, he was told that his death was a certainty—that it would occur in a matter of days or a week. Every day for the past nine years, he has experienced extreme pain.
Yet a month ago Rich Fritzky told me that his life has never been more exciting, more fulfilling, or more purposeful.

Mentally ill patients killed by euthanasia in Holland trebles

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MailOnline 3 October 2014
The number of mentally-ill patients killed by euthanasia in Holland has trebled in the space of a year, new figures have revealed.
In 2013, a total of 42 people with ‘severe psychiatric problems’ were killed by lethal injection compared to 14 in 2012 and 13 in 2011.
The latest official figures also revealed a 15 per cent surge in the number of euthanasia deaths from 4,188 cases in 2012 to 4,829 cases last year.
The incremental rise is consistent with a 13 per cent increase in 2012, an 18 per cent rise in 2011, 19 per cent in 2010 and 13 per cent in 2009.
The rise is also likely to confirm the fears of Dutch regulator Theo Boer who told the Daily Mail that he expected to see euthanasia cases smash the 6,000 barrier in 2014.
Overall, deaths by euthanasia, which officially account for three per cent of all deaths in the Netherlands, have increased by 151 per cent in just seven years.

Man Awakens After 12 Years in a “Vegetative State,” Says “I Was Aware of Everything”

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LifeNews 12 January 2015  
In the 1980’s, 12-year-old Martin Pistorious became seriously ill with what doctor’s believed was Cryptococci Meningitis. His health started deteriorating and Martin lost his ability to move, make eye contact and even speak to others. His doctors told his parents, Rodney and Joan Pistorious, to bring him home and let him die. They told them he was as good as a vegetable.
However, he didn’t die.
Joan said, “Martin just kept going, just kept going.”
According to NPR news, his father would get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, get him dressed, load him in the car, take him to the special care center where he’d leave him. Rodney said, “Eight hours later, I’d pick him up, bathe him, feed him, put him in bed, set my alarm for two hours so that I’d wake up to turn him so that he didn’t get bedsores.”
For twelve years, Martin’s family cared for him without any sign that he was improving. Joan started to despair and even told her son, “I hope you die.”
Today she acknowledges that was a horrible thing to say but says she just wanted some sort of relief. Remarkably, now Martin is 39-years-old and says he was totally aware of everything going on around him.

Dying wishes

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NZ Listener 8 January 2015
Evidence of a meticulous intellect at work sits in high stacks of convoluted documents in the Wellington office of Lecretia Seales. Every day, she makes her way from the Karori home she shares with her husband, Matt, to her 19th-floor Featherston St workplace to devote another fraction of her precious remaining time to one of her life’s abiding passions: law reform.
A senior legal and policy adviser with the Law Commission*, she is also, at 41, dying of brain cancer. And in what may be one of her last acts of devotion to the law, she is speaking out for autonomy and dignity in the manner and timing of her inevitable premature death.
“I am not afraid of dying, but I am petrified by what may happen to me in the lead-up to my death,” says Seales. “My greatest fear is that my husband will have a mad wife to deal with, like Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre. As far as I’m concerned, if I get to a point where I can no longer recognise or communicate with my husband, then for all intents and purposes I will already be dead. Nor do I wish to be a prisoner in my own body, unable to move and lying in my own excrement.”
She is not depressed, nor is she fixated on the possibility of a painful death preceded by the loss of her physical and mental capacities. Quite the opposite: her mother, Shirley Seales, says she is extraordinarily tough and well adjusted. And Seales herself says most of the time she pushes the fact that she has terminal cancer out of her mind and “pretend[s] that I’m going to live”.
But she has considered how the law in New Zealand provides for a person in her position and has found it wanting. If she was in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg or Switzerland, or in the US state of Oregon, Washington, Montana or Vermont, or in the Canadian province of Quebec, she would have the option of seeking help to die if she faced unbearable pain or suffering as a result of her illness.

Belgian rapist Van Den Bleeken refused 'right to die'

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BBC News 6 January 2015
A Belgian man serving a life sentence for rape and murder will not be allowed to have doctors end his life as he has requested, the justice minister says.
Koen Geens said he was respecting the latest medical advice of doctors treating Frank Van den Bleeken, who is unable to control violent sexual urges.
Van den Bleeken will be moved to a new psychiatric treatment centre, he added.
Belgium is one of three European countries that allows euthanasia for terminally ill people.
But Van den Bleeken’s case is the first involving a prisoner since the assisted dying law was introduced 12 years ago.
His request to undergo euthanasia won approval from Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Commission last September, after years of requests for the state to help him end his life.
But on Tuesday, Belgium’s justice ministry released a statement saying Mr Geens “takes note of the decision of doctors treating Mr Frank Van Den Bleeken to no longer continue the euthanasia procedure”.