Editor’s note. This appears on the blog of Alexander Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
Euthanasia supporter and researcher, Margaret Battin, wrote an article that was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2007 that suggested that there was no evidence that vulnerable groups were negatively affected by the legalization of euthanasia and/or assisted suicide. The article also suggested that there was no proof that a slippery slope exists.
The Battin article is important because the suicide lobby claims that this article definitively proves that we have nothing to fear by the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Battin examines the data from the Dutch euthanasia reports and the annual assisted suicide reports from Oregon and concludes that people who are members of vulnerable groups are not adversely affected by the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Euthanasia without request or consent
The concern that people are dying by euthanasia without request or consent is ignored by Battin. The 2005 Netherlands report shows that there were approximately 550 deaths without explicit request or consent. These deaths are not part of the euthanasia statistics which showed that there were approximately 2297 euthanasia deaths and 113 deaths by assisted suicide in the Netherlands in 2005.
Since the time of the Battin article new research concerning the practice of euthanasia in the Flanders region of Belgium that was published in the CMAJ in May 2010 concluded that up to 32% of all euthanasia deaths are being done without explicit request or consent.
A similar study concerning the role of nurses in the practice of euthanasia in the Flanders region of Belgium that was also published in the CMAJ in May 2010 concluded that 45% of all euthanasia deaths, by nurses, were done without explicit request or consent.
It is important to note that the researchers indicated that the time the decision to lethally inject the person, without request or consent, was made by the doctor 70.1% because the person was comatose, 21.1% the person had dementia, and 8.2% the doctor deemed the discussion to be harmful.
How can people who do not want to die by euthanasia be protected when it is done without request or consent? Choice is an illusion.
Depression people dying by euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Battin referred to the study by van der Lee, et al, that found that people who were depressed or had “feelings of hopelessness” were 4.1 times more likely to request euthanasia. This study is significant because van der Lee, who supports euthanasia, stated in her hypothesis: “their clinical impression was that requests for euthanasia were based on well-considered decisions and not depression in the Netherlands.”
In other words, van der Lee is trying to prove that there was no connection between euthanasia and depression.
Battin concludes that since the van der Lee study does not indicate whether requests for euthanasia by depressed people actually resulted in death by euthanasia, that she draws no conclusion from this data.
A study by Linda Ganzini, a co-author of the Battin article, and published in the British Medical Journal (2008) examined the prevalence of depressed people asking for assisted suicide in Oregon. Ganzini had 58 participants who had requested assisted suicide. She found that 26% of the participants were depressed or had “feelings of hopelessness.”
The Ganzini study proves that depressed people are dying by assisted suicide in Oregon. The study links the fact that depressed people who request assisted suicide in Oregon are not being referred for a psychiatric or psychological assessment. In 2007, 49 people who were reported to have died by assisted suicide in Oregon, none of them were referred for a psychiatric or psychological assessment.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide is under-reported
The 2005 Netherlands report concludes that 80.2% of all euthanasia or assisted suicide deaths are reported.
A recent study that was published in the British Medical Journal (Oct 2010) on reporting of euthanasia in the Flanders region of Belgium found that only 52.8% of the euthanasia deaths were reported.
The study indicated that euthanasia deaths that were not reported were often “unconventional.” For instance, a written request was not present, a palliative care consultation was not done, euthanasia was more often done by opioids or sedatives or both and the act was more often done by a nurse.
The most recent Belgium report indicates that the number of reported euthanasia deaths continues to increase and that concerns exist concerning the under-reporting of euthanasia deaths in the French region of Belgium.
The Slippery Slope
Battin claims that there is no evidence for a “slippery slope” effect in the Netherlands or Oregon. Battin seems to have redefined the term slippery slope.
Stephen Drake, the research analyst for the disability rights group Not Dead Yet made an excellent response to the “slippery slope” claim by Battin by stating:
“The term ‘slippery slope’ has always included the idea that the practices of assisted suicide and euthanasia will expand beyond the original ‘target population.’ This has happened in the Netherlands, which has given the green light to both infanticide of disabled infants and facilitation of the suicides of some people with psychiatric labels.”
My conclusions concerning the Battin article, that is upheld by the suicide lobby as “proof” that euthanasia and assisted suicide is a “safe practice. ” have not only not changed but have been strengthened by recent studies that prove that Battin was wrong.
I stated when the Battin study was released and I re-iterate now:
“The way in which the study by Margaret Battin of the University of Utah, who is a strong supporter of legalizing assisted suicide was completed would leave one to question whether or not her research was done to simply prove her hypothesis. This is a study that, at best, can be referred to as propaganda.”