Growing euthanasia statistics should be a warning
Friday 22 April 2016
Media and Communications Office
BISHOP Peter Comensoli writes:
There’s nothing compassionate or safe about killing our fellow travellers along the journey of life.
Accepting euthanasia means agreeing some people are beyond any help, for whom taking their life is the only option. I reject that pessimism. I reject the idea that euthanising someone is any sort of solution to the deeply human reality of facing our own mortality. That is a most callous and irresponsible choice. Doctors should instead help people to live their lives well as they make their final journey towards death.
Rather than buying into the dangerous and dishonest euphemism of ‘dying with dignity’, we would do better – and be more human – by dignifying the lives of the dying. Palliative care is one key way we can dignify the dying. We should not accept the chronic under-funding of palliative care in this country and offer lethal injections instead.
Euthanasia is not turning off a life support machine where there is no prospect of recovery. It is not ending treatment that is overly burdensome. It is not giving someone pain relief as they are dying. Rather, euthanasia is giving someone a drug with the intention of ending their life.
Ross Fitzgerald embraces a pessimistic, reductionist view of life. He calls on the Catholic Church to provide hard evidence of the problems with euthanasia. I’m happy to oblige.
Fitzgerald highlights the Canadian parliamentary inquiry that suggests euthanasia can be readily legalised and properly controlled. He does not mention that the same overseas experience indicates that the categories of people who can be legally euthanised is increasing, the number of individuals being euthanised is growing rapidly, and many of the rules in place are being routinely ignored.
Let’s look at the increase in numbers of people dying by euthanasia. The American Medical Association’s Journal of Internal Medicine published an article this year that shows that in The Netherlands 3.3 per cent (one in 30) of deaths were by euthanasia in 2013, three times the percentage in 2002. In Flanders, Belgium 4.6 per cent (one in 24) deaths were by euthanasia in 2013, up from 1.9 per cent in 2007.
And lastly, the failure of laws. The Canadian Medical Association Journal published a report that shows that one third of euthanasia cases in Flanders, Belgium are without explicit consent. An article in the British Medical Journal shows only half the euthanasia cases in Flanders are reported as legally required. Another article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says life-ending drugs are administered by nurses in Belgium in almost half the cases of assisted death without an explicit request.
An article published in The Lancet says 23 per cent of deaths by euthanasia in The Netherlands are not reported to authorities. Statistics Netherlands reported there were 310 euthanasia deaths without explicit consent in 2010.
A number of high profile cases in recent years have shown how the laws work. In 2012 a 64-year-old Dutch woman was euthanised because she was deemed to have ‘untreatable depression’. In 2013 43-year-old identical twins in Belgium were euthanised after they found they had a genetic condition that meant they would lose their sight. In 2015 an 85-year-old Belgian woman was euthanised because she grieved deeply after the death of her daughter and said she had nothing to live for.
The clear conclusion of reason and experience is that euthanasia or assisted suicide cannot be made safe, because no law can prevent vulnerable people from abuse. The evidence from places that have attempted to legalise and regulate euthanasia is that it is not possible to draft safeguards that would effectively protect vulnerable people from subtle or overt pressure to request euthanasia.
Legalised euthanasia endangers the lives of our fellow human beings who are seriously ill, elderly, disabled, have low self-esteem or are otherwise vulnerable. People should have our care and the ongoing protection of our laws; not a lethal injection.
Peter Comensoli is the Catholic Bishop of Broken Bay and spokesman on life issues for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.