As euthanasia clinics close their doors, Covid-19 crisis demonstrates the need for euthanasia and assisted suicide is abstract rather than practical

Euthanasia not an “essential service”

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Kevin Yuill, the author of the book Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation, and Theo Boer, a former member of a Netherlands Regional Euthanasia Review Committee (2005 – 14),  teamed up to write the article: “What Covid-19 has revealed about euthanasia” that was published by Spiked on April 14. Coming from very different perspectives, their contributions are an important rebuttal of the notion that during a pandemic, euthanasia is an “essential service.”

The authors begin the article by commenting on Covid-19 and healthcare:

There has not been, in living memory, more focus on healthcare, the vital role of doctors, the sacrifices made by nurses, and the wonderful efforts of everyone involved in the sector. Amid the coronavirus crisis, daily heroism, the scale of human loss, and the awful scenes in hospitals underline what is important – and what is not.

They authors comment on euthanasia and Covid-19 in the Netherlands:

It will surprise some that in the Netherlands, the only dedicated clinic providing euthanasia and assisted suicide has closed. Euthanasia Expertise Centre (formerly known as End of Life Clinic) has suspended all euthanasia procedures. The clinic’s website says that existing procedures have been put on hold and new patients are no longer admitted. The centre – which in 2019 alone ended the lives of 898 patients suffering from cancers, psychiatric problems, early on-set dementia, and accumulated age-related complaints – is willing to make an exception only for those expected to die soon and those who may soon lose their capacity for decision-making.

They comment on euthanasia and Covid-19 in Belgium:

Similarly, in Belgium, Jacqueline Herremans, a member of the federal commission reviewing euthanasia, has noted that there are few resources and even fewer doctors available for euthanasia at the moment: ‘The most important thing right now is that we fight the coronavirus.’

Yuill and Boer then comment on euthanasia and Covid-19 in Canada:

In Canada, authorities are also shutting down services. For a process that requires two different medical assessments and witnesses, the lives involved are not worth the risk. According to the Globe and Mail, two places in Ontario, where euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal since 2016, have stopped providing medical assistance in dying (MAiD) because of the coronavirus pandemic (one has since resumed for existing patients and those whose deaths are imminent).

In Ontario, only two regions are known to decided that euthanasia is not an essential service. 

The authors point out that the Netherlands euthanasia clinic state that euthanasia is not a priority during the Covid-19 crisis. The statement from the euthanasia clinic follows an opposite statement last year where Steven Pleiter, the director of the clinic said

‘If the situation is unbearable and there is no prospect of improvement, and euthanasia is an option, it would be almost unethical [of a doctor] not to help that person’

The authors point out that palliative care professionals and institutions have not shut-down during the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, what has the Covid-19 pandemic taught us about euthanasia? The authors state:

What the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated is that the need for euthanasia and assisted suicide is abstract rather than practical. In the Netherlands in the 1980s, assisted dying started out as the ultimate solution to impending horrible deaths. In present times, with a high level of care for the dying available in most countries with good healthcare, assisted dying is not about actual deaths, but about deaths that people fear. The reality is that most people die peaceful deaths. But many fear loss of control and find the prospect of others caring for them terrifying. 

Covid-19 brings the reality of death, the necessity of caring for others and being cared for by others, into our living rooms, making the preciousness of all lives and the tragedy of all deaths real. We see the humanity of the elderly and frail; no longer are they burdens to be dispatched from this world, but victims of horrifying disease that all are invested in fighting.

The authors conclude by stating:

“Perhaps, though, we can remember this time when we made huge sacrifices to preserve every life, no matter how frail and vulnerable. We can remember this time when euthanasia no longer seemed necessary.”

Thank you, Kevin and Theo. Euthanasia is not an essential service, and it is not healthcare.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.