In 2002 the Netherlands implemented a law giving individuals the right to end their own life with a doctor’s approval when they are suffering unbearably. Neighboring Belgium did the same.
To reassure the skeptical, advocates insisted that physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia would be rare.
But the reality since it became legal has been far different in the two countries. Most obvious is the reality that the number of people dying with medical assistance is rising rapidly and it only shows signs of continuing to increase.
The first year in the Netherlands about 200 people died with government support. Since then the number of legal deaths has soared. In 2012 some 4,188 people in the Netherlands were euthanized or took their own lives with doctors’ help. It is increasing about 15 per cent a year.
In Belgium 24 died the first year. Now more than 1,400 die each year with government approval and often with direct government help.
Moreover, disturbing patterns in the years since government-supported death began strongly suggest that there will be continuing expansion. Patterns show:
- Younger people and even children can now legally put themselves to death under rules changed in Belgium.
- People with conditions that are not life threatening, including dementia, depression and glaucoma, can obtain legal medical assistance to end their lives.
- When some Dutch doctors declined to participate the Dutch government did an end run around them by establishing a separate commission to authorize death if the patient’s own doctor will not agree.
- Dutch medical groups now are talking opening about the “benefits” of assisted suicide --as a source of organs to transplant!
Fundamentally, where advocates initially said that it would be rare and restricted, the opposite is the case. Some examples help illuminate the situation:
- Last year the Dutch death panel authorized the assisted death of 47-year-old Gaby Olthuis. She was suffering from tinnitus, a severe, continuous painful ringing in her ears. Olthuis is one of 250 deaths authorized by the panel.
- Deaf Belgian twins, Mark and Eddy Verbessemn, age 45, had lived together all their lives. When they found that one of them was developing glaucoma, they feared the future and decided to die together. A Belgian doctor, a euthanasia advocate, authorized their deaths. They died just before Christmas in 2012.
- Nancy Verhelst, 44, was legally killed in 2013 by Belgian doctors after other doctors had botched her sex change operation, leaving her devastated.
- Those patterns in the current experience with medically legalized death have prompted a change in views of many early supporters.
One is Theo Boer, a Dutch doctor. Boer was an early supporter of assisted suicide. But the experience since legalization has changed his view 180 degrees, and today he strongly opposes it. Boer sums it with “Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely ever to go back in again.”