Euthanasia prohibition by mattsteinglass

Writes Megan McArdle (“The Politics of Cost Control”):

I actually think it’s pretty reasonable when  conservatives worry that the Dutch attitudes towards euthanasia are influenced by the burden old people and severely disabled children put on the public purse.  I don’t see how they could fail to be.

It’s “reasonable” for conservatives to worry about that, if it’s reasonable for people to be completely wrong-headed. What exactly are “Dutch attitudes towards euthanasia”? Exactly the same as American attitudes towards euthanasia; euthanasia, i.e. causing a relatively painless death, is common for end-of-life care in both the US and the Netherlands. (“Doctor-assisted suicide” is different from “euthanasia”, and is extremely rare in the Netherlands as well as the US.) The difference is that the Dutch believe the process should take place within a legal framework so that doctors and other witnesses make certain, on the record, that a patient is in unbearable pain and wishes to die, rather than the US system of making the process completely non-transparent and open to abuse by relatives and other interested parties because it’s officially illegal (though almost never prosecuted, in the US either).

In 2002 the Dutch institutionalized a process that demands that a patient be in unbearable pain with no possibility of improvement; that the patient repeatedly request euthanasia over a period of time; that at least one independent doctor besides the patient’s doctor confirm the request; and that, obviously, the entire process be recorded so that doctors are legally liable in case of abuse. Did legalization make the euthanasia rate go up? The opposite: it dropped significantly.

Fewer people in the Netherlands died by euthanasia or assisted suicides after the practices became legal, a study found.

The proportion of deaths in the nation ascribed to euthanasia, or causing a relatively painless death, fell to 1.7 percent in 2005, from 2.6 percent in 2001, the year before the law was changed, researchers said in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine. The rate of doctor-aided suicides fell by half, to 0.1 percent.

More generally, when people have a specific argument that’s stupid and based on propaganda and lies (i.e.: Obama wants to persuade your grandma to kill herself), it’s not really helpful to anyone to say “well, it may not be true, but they’re right to be concerned about the general issue (i.e. of the US government wanting your grandma to kill herself).” What they would be right to be concerned about is the fact that, while your grandma is guaranteed decent end-of-life care by the government, you, if you go into a coma after a car accident, will probably end up bankrupting your family after the lifetime limits on your private insurance policy run out — and then being guaranteed decent end-of-life care by the government because you’re now poor.


2 Comments so far
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Mr. Steinglass,

You make a very good case with, unlike most commentators, actual information as well opinion. The odd thing is that this sort of thing actually already happens under the current US health care system. When my father was in the last stages of esophageal cancer, he could no longer eat or drink and was dying of dehydration. We were given two options, insert a stainless steel shunt to force open his esophagus which would let him live another month or two or simply let him die of dehydration. We were told most casually that to die of dehydration was not at all painful or uncomfortable. Just like that we could have simply done nothing and let him die, no fuss or bother. It would not have been euthanasia exactly (we went ahead and had the shunt inserted which did indeed keep him alive for two more months), but it would have been pretty close.

So the idea that a national health program would in some way be different from the current program in this respect is just non-sense.

Comment by davidlosangeles

There has to be a way to make clear the distinction between euthanasia and physician aid-in-dying, two totally different things. If people would look at the data from OR, which has proved the value of legalized p-a-d for well over a decade, they’d understand the multiple benefits. Such as: more people dying on hospice, better pain management, zero instances of abuse and safeguards for everyone (to name a few.) Irrational opposition continues to trump truth.

Comment by Fran Johns

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