Rethinking Euthanasia?

by Christopher White, CBC Director of Research and Education on April 5, 2016

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Dr. Theo de Boer, a professor of health care ethics at the Theological University in Kampen and associate professor of ethics at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen in the Netherlands, has just published an essay in which he distances himself from the very practice that he once helped shape the policy for implementation.

In his essay, Dr. de Boer admits that he’s still a supporter of euthanasia in some rare cases, but after serving on a review committee for a decade is convinced that euthanasia is becoming normalized in the Netherlands—and this is something he’s very wary of.

He writes:

For a decade and a half this system seemed to provide a means to stabilize the number of cases and prevent the expansion of grounds for seeking assisted dying. We told delegations from abroad that the Dutch solution was robust and humane. As recently as in 2011 I assured a European ecumenical audience that the Dutch system was a model worth considering.

But that conclusion has become harder and harder for me to support. For no apparent reason, beginning in 2007, the numbers of assisted dying cases started going up by 15 percent each year. In 2014 the number of cases stood at 5,306, nearly three times the 2002 figure.

This slippery slope—that euthanasia would become the state’s preferred means of dealing with the elderly and suffering—is exactly what he was worried about when first supporting the practice and precisely what he was assured would not happen.

Based on what he’s witnessed first hand, he sends a warning to other countries considering the practice:

Neither the Netherlands nor Belgium has made a serious attempt to address the rising incidents of assisted dying and the shift from seeing assisted dying as a last resort to seeing it as a normal death. It appears that once legalization of assisted dying has occurred, critical reflection is difficult…If there’s even one case of assisted dying for which there was a less drastic alternative, then that is one case too many.

Hear, hear!

Image by armydre via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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