Legalizing Euthanasia: What we can learn from the Netherlands

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Leo van Doesburg with The European Christian Political Movement  and Diederik van Dijk with the NPV-Care for life published a thorough article titled  Legalizing Euthanasia: What we can learn from the Netherlands, in response to the growing number of countries debating euthanasia and the growing practise of euthanasia in the Netherlands. 

Since the article is 20 pages long, I have published the conclusion, I encourage people to read the full text.

Conclusion:

When the euthanasia law was adopted in 2001, it focused on persons who were terminally ill. As this publication showed, once the law was introduced, the grounds for performing euthanasia in the Netherlands have been broadened, becoming available to more and more groups of people. The arguments used were: ‘compassion’ (“it is better for him/her to die than to suffer any longer”) and ‘personal autonomy’ (“death is a personal matter; if someone wants to die, they should be helped”). 

This situation is, in our view, threatening because:

1. Legal euthanasia undermines the idea that killing another person is bad. The legalization of the act of killing shows a kind of justification. Particularly for those who are not able to make decisions for themselves, the following question needs to be answered: can we make life or death decisions and judge about the value of life of another human being? 

2. Legal euthanasia undermines the equality of people. Some groups are considered ‘suitable’ for euthanasia, while for other groups, we invest money in suicide prevention. What is the message given to the groups that are seen as ‘suitable’? For example, the discussions about the ‘completed life ending’ may indirectly emotionally press the elderly to think about the possibility to terminate their lives.                                                                                        

3. Vulnerable people become even more vulnerable. Having euthanasia as an option can lead people to harbor ideas of death which might be fanned further by the family, causing (indirect) pressure. Applying euthanasia for incapacitated people ignores the right of life for everyone. It also disregards the prerequisite ‘on request’, which initially was the cornerstone of the Dutch euthanasia law. The role of a government is to protect the vulnerable and to seek solutions to improve the quality of life of those who suffer, not to end their life. 

4. The ‘slippery slope’ has become a reality in the Netherlands. The reasoning “it is not fair that euthanasia is available for that group, but not for another group” is often mentioned (e.g., recently in the discussion for children aged 1-12). This shows that once legalized, euthanasia is difficult to be contained to one group of people. Numbers of euthanasia cases are growing every year, also for ‘special’ groups, like people with dementia or psychiatric disorders. 

5. Euthanasia has become normalized in Dutch culture. 99% of the Dutch citizens know what ‘euthanasia’ is, while only 53% know what ‘palliative care’ is. This has far-reaching consequences: 11% of Dutch citizens are afraid to get euthanasia in a secret way.

As a conclusion, we see that, although human dignity arguments were used to legalize or broaden the provision of euthanasia, in reality the human dignity of the vulnerable is in danger. Death is the opposite of life. We should not use the argument for dignity to assist people in dying, but focus on helping people to live. Therefore, it is imperative to invest in initiatives which alleviate loneliness in the elderly or isolated people and to fund good palliative care. It is our duty to protect the vulnerable among us against the dangers stemming from the expansion of access to euthanasia.

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