Death on demand: has euthanasia gone too far?

The Guardian

Christopher de Bellaigue

Last year a Dutch doctor called Bert Keizer was summoned to the house of a man dying of lung cancer, in order to end his life. . . . Keizer is one of around 60 physicians on the books of the Levenseindekliniek, or End of Life Clinic, which matches doctors willing to perform euthanasia with patients seeking an end to their lives, and which was responsible for the euthanasia of some 750 people in 2017. . . [Full text]

Is Euthanasia Psychiatric Treatment? The Struggle With Death on Request in the Netherlands

Damiaan Denys

A 42-year-old married woman with three children was referred to our department for treatment of treatment-resistant depression. Pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, and ECT were unsuccessful. We applied deep brain stimulation, which was partially effective and reduced depressive symptoms by 30%, but the patient still suffered. During our struggle to find optimal deep brain stimulation parameters in the course of treatment, the patient requested that her general physician provide euthanasia. Following guidelines in the Netherlands, our team was consulted, but we disapproved because her suffering was not prospectless and there still were treatment options with deep brain stimulation. Although we had treated her intensively for 2 years, our advice was disregarded. Eight weeks later we received the obituary of the patient.


Denys D. Is Euthanasia Psychiatric Treatment? The Struggle With Death on Request in the Netherlands. Am J Psychiatry. 2018 Sep 1;175(9):822-823. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18060725.

Dutch prosecutors to investigate euthanasia cases after sharp rise

Doctor-assisted deaths of four women in the Netherlands found to warrant criminal inquiries

The Guardian

Criminal investigations have been launched into four cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands after a sharp rise in the number of doctor-assisted deaths.

The cases follow the opening of a criminal inquiry last year into the euthanasia of a 74-year-old woman who was described by prosecutors as “seriously demented” and legally incapable of choosing whether to die or not. . . [Full Text]

Dutch euthanasia regulator quits over dementia killings

Catholic Herald

Simon Caldwell

The number of dementia patients killed by euthanasia has risen fourfold over the past five years

A Dutch euthanasia regulator has quit her post in protest at the killings of patients suffering from dementia.

Berna van Baarsen, a medical ethicist, said she could not support “a major shift” in the interpretation of her country’s euthanasia law to endorse lethal injections for increasing numbers of dementia patients.

She has now resigned from one of Holland’s five regional assessment committees set up to oversee the provision of euthanasia. . . [Full Text]

How does assisting with suicide affect physicians?

The Conversation

Ronald W. Pies*

When my mother was in her final months, suffering from a heart failure and other problems, she called me to her bedside with a pained expression. She took my hand and asked plaintively, “How do I get out of this mess?”

As a physician, I dreaded the question that might follow: Would I help her end her life by prescribing a lethal drug? . . . [Full Text]

Ensuring access to euthanasia by encouraging physician participation: it’s complicated

Sean Murphy*

In July, 2017, Canadian euthanasia/assisted suicide (EAS) practitioners and advocates alleged that patient access to euthanasia and assisted suicide was in danger because of “barriers” and “disincentives” to physician participation. Dr. Stefanie Green, president of their professional association, described the situation as “a crisis.”1 There was, in fact, no crisis — only a false perception of crisis fuelled by unrealistic expectations about levels of physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide.2

Nonetheless, it is reasonable for policy makers to respond to their concerns that physicians are discouraged from participating in euthanasia and assisted suicide. Indeed, objecting physicians are less likely to experience disadvantage and coercion if policy-makers seriously consider suggestions by EAS practitioners and advocates about how to encourage physician participation in euthanasia.

Removing barriers and disincentives to physician participation

Minimizing procedural and administrative requirements
Returning to the complaints and concerns of Canadian euthanasia practitioners (see Canada’s Summer of Discontent2), reducing or streamlining procedural requirements and minimizing burdensome paperwork might encourage more physicians to participate. However, this raises a question that may prove difficult to answer. Is a procedural requirement a “barrier” — or a necessary safeguard? A “disincentive” — or an essential ethical prerequisite? The difficulty is illustrated by developments in Belgium. . . .[Full text]

Should doctors be paid a premium for assisting deaths?

Physicians can make more doing paperwork than performing this legal, but emotionally demanding, service. For many, it’s just not worth it.

MacLeans

Catherine McIntyre

Back in March, Dr. Tanja Daws took time off from her family practice to travel from B.C.’s Comox Valley to a remote community on Vancouver Island and provide an elderly patient who was dying and suffering with medical assistance in dying (MAID). After the five-and-a-half hour endeavour, which involved some of the most emotionally and technically difficult work Daws has ever done, the physician calculated that, after factoring in her staffing costs and other office expenses, she had lost about $28 for every hour she worked.

“It struck me that I can’t keep doing this,” says Daws. “I can work for nothing, but I can’t work for a loss.” . . . [Full text]

Dutch doctors oppose plans for ‘completed life’ euthanasia

BioEdge

Michael Cook

Although Dutch government proposals for euthanasia for “completed life” – that is, for elderly people who want to step off the treadmill gracefully – have received a lot of publicity, they have not been legislated.

Now the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG), the peak body for doctors in the Netherlands, has announced its opposition.” Such a radical proposal is not desirable for practical reasons and for reasons of principle,” says the KNMG.

Adding another law to govern the practice of euthanasia will lead to great complications, it contends. “The current Act is meticulous, transparent, verifiable, safe for patients and physicians, and has broad support.”

The government’s proposal could harm the elderly. “Vulnerability due to age, when people experience many medical and non-medical problems, can cause unbearable and hopeless suffering within the meaning of the legislation.” It could end up stigmatising the elderly.

The KNMG points out that the term “completed life” has an attractive ring to it for the public. “In practice, however, it will mainly be vulnerable people who experience loneliness and loss of meaning. These are complex and tragic problems for which no simple solutions.”


This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to BioEdge. Commercial media must contact BioEdge for permission and fees.

Developments in the Practice of Physician-Assisted Death Since Its Legalization in the Netherlands

Jacob J.E. Koopman, MD, PhD*

Public prostitution, freely available marijuana, conventional same-sex marriage—yet the Netherlands is, perhaps, best known around the world for pioneering physician-assisted death. Outside of the country, its reputation is easily misconceived and sometimes blown out of proportion. For example, in 2012 the Dutch were astonished to hear this assertion of former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum . . .  Full Text

Everybody’s a winner when euthanasia combines with organ donation, say doctors

BioEdge

Michael Cook

Several Dutch and Belgian doctors have proposed legal reforms to increase the popularity of combining euthanasia and organ donation in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, they report valuable unpublished information about the prevalence of the procedure. So far, it has been performed only about 40 times in the two countries. However, there is “a persisting discrepancy between the number of organ donors and the number of patients on the waiting lists for transplantation” – which euthanasia patients could help to balance.

The authors stress that euthanasia is not a cure-all for the organ shortage. Most euthanasia patients suffer from cancer, which is a contraindication for organ transplantation. However, 25 to 30% of them do not, so there is obviously a real possibility of expanding the supply.

Furthermore, the authors say, public perception of this formerly abhorrent practice is increasingly positive:

. . . transplant coordinators in Belgium and the Netherlands notice a contemporary trend towards an increasing willingness and motivation to undergo euthanasia and to subsequently donate organs as well, supported by the increasing number of publications in popular media on this topic.

Ethically, the procedure is basically uncontroversial as long as the patient is not pressured to donate, they contend.

In the context of organ donation after euthanasia, the right of self-determination is a paramount ethical and legal aspect. It is the patient’s wish and right to die in a dignified way, and likewise his wish to donate his organs is expressed. Organ donation after euthanasia enables those who do not wish to remain alive to prolong the lives of those who do, and also—compared with ‘classical’ donation after circulatory death—allows many more people to fulfil their wish to donate organs after death.

However, there are some legal hitches in both countries. In the Netherlands, unlike Belgium, euthanasia is regarded as an “unnatural death” which has to be reported to the public prosecutor. This could delay donations. If the law were changed to allow the cause of death to be reported as the underlying condition, the procedure would be more expeditious. And “In Belgium, the current policy of determination of death by three independent physicians could be abandoned, facilitating a more lean procedure with only one physician.”

Public perceptions need to be managed as well. At the moment, it is necessary to maintain a strict separation between the request for euthanasia and the need for the organ. Partly this is needed to ensure that the donor is not being pressured. But the public also needs to have confidence that physicians will give objective advice.

Finally, there is the tradition of the dead donor rule “that donation should not cause or hasten death”. The authors imply that this could be scrapped for euthanasia volunteers:

Since a patient undergoing euthanasia has chosen to die, it is worth arguing that the no-touch time (depending on the protocol) could be skipped, limiting the warm ischaemia time and contributing to the quality of the transplanted organs. It is even possible to extend this argument to a ‘heart-beating organ donation euthanasia’ where a patient is sedated, after which his organs are being removed, causing death.

The article’s proposals were not received with great enthusiasm in the UK where there is a simmering debate on assisted dying. Tory MP Fiona Bruce told the Daily Mail: “The paper confirms the worst fears expressed by Parliament when the House of Commons conclusively voted to stop the legalisation of assisted suicide in this country. The possibility of euthanasia achieved through live organ donation, such as by removing a patient’s beating heart, as posited in this paper is shocking and chilling.”

And Lord Carlile of Berriew, a Liberal Democrat peer who is a leading lawyer, said: “I have extreme concerns about the ghoulish nature of the combined euthanasia and organ donation systems in the Netherlands and Belgium. Both can result in unbearable and irresistible pressure on an individual to die, and on a doctor to encourage death.”


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