Friday, January 07, 2005

Dutch Euthanasia Law

The electronic version of the British Medical Journal yesterday published an article about the recent controversy on "euthanasia" in the Netherlands. The article, as well as my response below, will remain accessible to the general public for a week at:
http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/330/7482/61

Dutch euthanasia law should apply to patients "suffering through living," report says
This article accurately reflects the reports which have appeared in the Dutch media, and likewise overlooks the same points:

  1. Euthanasia is a term which in the Netherlands is used spuriously to indicate a doctor's killing his patient at the patient's request or providing the patient with the means to kill himself. The not uncommon practice of deliberately causing the patient to die from dehydration without his or his family’s consent is not called euthanasia but rather natural death. This confusion of terms muddles the debate.
  2. It is true that a person’s suffering cannot always be "unambiguously measured according to his illness." However, by claiming that the medical domain of doctors is far broader, and includes the reduction of suffering unrelated to classifiable and measurable somatic illness, physicians are proposing to redefine medicine, and vastly expand its already inflated territory.
  3. The very fact that the cited report was commissioned by the Royal Dutch Medical Association, the physician’s own organization, implies, wrongly, that physicians are faced with the moral dilemma of deciding whose lives they may terminate. There is no moral dilemma. Terminating another person’s life is murder.
  4. The association claims for physicians the right to terminate the lives of patients according to standards set by the medical profession. At the same time, it continues to support, or at least not deny, the right of “medical” personnel to confine and punish competent people who express the wish or attempt to terminate their own lives. When the doctor disapproves, he calls it suicide, and obtains court permission to forcibly restrain the person. When he approves, he takes control of the act, and calls it euthanasia, not homicide.
  5. The physicians' association also continues to support laws that prohibit free trade in drugs, including drugs which can be effectively employed to terminate one’s own life. Thereby physicians seek to compel people to be dependent on them for accessing such drugs, and thus require physicians' permission for a decision which is not the physicians' to make.
Non-physician supporters of the Dutch “euthanasia law” mistakenly believe that it grants them the right to die. It does no such thing. It only grants immunity to physicians. Unsurprisingly, the committee commissioned by the physicians recommends expanding that immunity.

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