Amidst a deep and tumultuous debate about the merits of euthanasia in the United Kingdom, a Dutch case study is causing waves. Think "euthanasia", and you will typically conjure up images of terminally-ill patients or elderly people in tremendous pain, without any means of relieving themselves of their suffering.
When there is nothing more even modern medicine can do to halt the agony, isn't a legal means to put a stop to the pain nothing more than upholding that old pledge of "first, do no harm"? Unable to get up from their hospital or hospice beds, don't these people deserve to exit this world in dignity?
Sex-Abuse Victim Undergoes Euthanasia
As a Dutch person and a carer to the elderly and disabled, I have known several people who have applied for assisted suicide, and one who was granted it, in the most humane of circumstances. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease and applied for euthanasia in the later stages shortly after being diagnosed. The procedure she went through to gain approval was rigorous, and she was able to go in peace before her mind declined to the point that she had no idea who her loved-ones were, or who she was.
She suffered, among other things, from severe and treatment-resistant Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anorexia, and chronic depression. Due to the physical effects of her condition, the patient had become bedridden and dependent on a feeding tube for her nutrition. The woman, reports say, endured the feeling of being "dying without dying".
The unnamed young woman applied for the right to receive assistance in ending her life two years prior. Dutch laws state that suffering has to be unbearable and incurable in order to qualify. This woman, her psychiatrist said, was incurable, something a second opinion confirmed. Despite previous statements that she had been depressed, Dutch doctors deemed her to be "totally competent" and said there was "no major depression or other mood disorder which affected her thinking". Two years after her initial application, she was granted approval, and ended her life with medical assistance.
British politicians were outraged, and rather than looking to the Netherlands as an example on how to compassionately practice assisted suicide, said such things as:
- "It is both horrifying and worrying that mental health professionals could regard euthanasia in any form as an answer to the complex and deep wounds that result from sexual abuse." — Nikki Kenward, disability rights group Distant Voices
- "It almost sends the message that if you are the victim of abuse, and as a result you get a mental illness, you are punished by being killed, that the punishment for the crime of being a victim is death." — Labour MP Robert Flello
This woman's suffering could indeed have been incurable and unbearable, something determined by a committee of doctors.
While this could certainly be looked upon as humanely aiding fellow human beings in ending their suffering, it is clear that the upward trend in people with mental health challenges ending their lives is causing opposition not just in the Netherlands, but also beyond. Was there really no hope for these people?