December 24th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: A reflection on Christmas

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why Abbott will win the next election

MARRIAGE: Mature leadership needed in emotional marriage debate

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Behind the trade-induced global financial crisis

RESOURCES: Building a better future without a carbon tax

AFRICA: How free enterprise is transforming Africa

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Presidential elections confirm Taiwan's vibrant democracy

EUTHANASIA I: The ever-worsening problem of elder abuse

EUTHANASIA II: Netherlands: "Grim reaper on wheels" mobile death squads

OPINION: The moral causes of Europe's predicament

BOOK REVIEW Gallipoli, the Somme, then German captivity

BOOK REVIEW A Christian-themed Viking epic

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Netherlands: "Grim reaper on wheels" mobile death squads

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, December 24, 2011

Straight from the just-when-you-thought-it-couldn’t-possibly-get-any-worse files come reports that the Dutch government is “considering” setting up mobile death squads to administer euthanasia to people in their own homes.

The mobile medical teams have been dubbed “grim reapers on wheels” by critics of the scheme.

According to a report in the UK Telegraph, Dutch health minister Edith Schippers recently admitted to the Dutch parliament that mobile units “for patients who meet the criteria for euthanasia but whose doctors are unwilling to carry it out” was worthy of consideration.

Instantly, many will be reminded of the SS Einsatzgruppen (Special Task Forces) death squads that moved through towns on the Eastern Front in the wake of the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. I hesitate to draw any further comparisons with this dark and sinister period in European history, but this recent development in Europe is disturbing on a number of levels.

The suggestion that these mobile units would euthanase people in the event that a local doctor was unwilling to do the killing could constitute a serious breach of medical ethics.

What if the doctor refused to kill for sound medical reasons, such as a patient’s untreated depression or evidence of coercive pressure?

Would the mobile death squad personnel, before swinging into action, be prepared to seek the doctor’s advice and defer to his opinion and treatment plan for the patient? It doesn’t seem that likely.

Already we have seen Dutch patients with Alzheimer’s being euthanased. But now Dutch pro-euthanasia groups are pushing to expand the eligibility for euthanasia still further.

According to the UK Daily Mail, the lobby is complaining that “80 per cent of people with dementia or mental illnesses were being ‘missed’ by the country’s euthanasia laws”. Missed? Is there now to be a door-to-door search? Quick, hide Grandma in the cupboard!

Would the patient’s doctor even be told that the death squad was about to visit his patient? For the frail, elderly or those with depression or mental illness, the doctor may well also be the patient’s only advocate. Doctor-shopping for a preferred diagnosis is one thing, but this is death in the guise of a door-to-door salesman!

And salesmanship it is. In Washington state, where assisted suicide is legal, euthanasia advocates, such as the euphemistically titled “Compassion and Choices”, provide advice to those seeking death on how to approach their doctor and what to do if he tries to talk the patient out of it or tries to defer the conversation.

Their advice suggests that any answer from the doctor that falls short of endorsing the provision of assisted suicide under the state’s Dignity With Dying Act is inadmissible.

But again, is it not a legitimate response of the doctor to avoid a direct answer to such a question? Should he not instead take the time to conduct a proper medical and mental health assessment and seek the best outcome for the patient?

Of course, if you the patient don’t get what you want immediately, there’s always help at the other end of the phone: “Call Compassion & Choices of Washington (C&C) and request a Client Support Volunteer who can help you achieve a peaceful, humane death.”

One can easily imagine a similar phone facility being set up in Holland: “Your doctor said ‘no’? How terrible! Here, call our mobile hotline now!”

Paul Russell is director of the national network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.



Simon Caldwell, “Mobile euthanasia teams being considered by Dutch government”, The Telegraph (UK), December 6, 2011.

Simon Caldwell, “Death on wheels: Dutch to send mobile clinics to euthanise people in their own homes”, Daily Mail, (UK), December 7, 2011.

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