January 31st 2015

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED Is time running out for Tony Abbott?

QUEENSLAND STATE ELECTION Choice facing Queensland voters on January 31

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Will Australia strengthen country-of-origin labelling laws?

GREAT THINKERS What Edmund Burke has to say to the modern world

SOCIETY Fatherlessness linked to increased risk of child abuse

LIFE ISSUES Assassinations should be 'safe, legal and rare'

LIFE ISSUES Shocking figures on Holland's euthanasia-fest

EDITORIAL Greek elections new threat to eurozone

Economic crisis polarises European politics

EUROPE Paris attack underscores a deeper malaise

UNITED STATES Dismay and outrage at Obama's Cuba policy

CHINA Flood of Chinese 'black money' distorts property market

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Behind Sri Lanka's vote for change

CULTURE What is the point of criticism?

BOOK REVIEW French sanctuary for endangered Jews

BOOK REVIEW Quaker forger who poisoned his mistress

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Shocking figures on Holland's euthanasia-fest

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, January 31, 2015

The British Daily Mail has published a shocking exposé by journalist Susan Reid on the euthanasia culture run wild in Holland — the country of Anne Frank and Edith Stein — which lost thousands of its Jewish citizens to the Nazis’ death factories in World War II.

Apart from Nazi Germany, Holland was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia, the legislation being pushed through despite strong opposition from the churches.

Euthanasia was introduced there with various safeguards. These have proved ineffective in practice. The situation in neighbouring Belgium is much the same.

Holland has become, according to the Mail: “The country where for thousands death is a lifestyle choice: A mum with ringing ears. Babies whose parents don’t want them to suffer.”

Euthanasia began for tragic cases involving great suffering. Even those with religious or ethical objections to it could understand why it might be a choice for some extreme cases.

With modern medicine, however, such extremes of suffering are rare. With modern palliative care, very few medical treatments involve great pain.

The experience of Holland is that euthanasia has become more and more a mere convenience, a matter of killing off the elderly under pressure from relatives impatient to inherit, or for the equally selfish reason that they are distressed by the appearance of sick children or old or injured people who may in fact be fighting for life.

There are many cases of deformed or damaged children — sometimes with minor and reparable defects such as a cleft palate — who would be candidates for euthanasia in Holland or Belgium but who might otherwise grow up to lead full and satisfying lives.

Reid says: “Everyone in the Netherlands, where a right-to-die law was passed in 2002, seems to know of someone who has lost a loved one through a mercy killing.

“As many as one in 33 people now use euthanasia to end their lives, and the number of cases rose from 1,923 in 2006 to nearly 5,000 in 2013. It is thought that in 2014 around 6,000 people could have chosen to die by this means.

“You might be entitled to think that what people do in Holland is their business and nothing to do with us in Britain. But you could not be more wrong.

“If campaigners have their way, the law will be changed here, too, to allow those who wish to end their life to do so at a time of their choosing. For opponents of euthanasia, this raises grave moral questions, as well as concerns that unscrupulous relatives might take advantage of elderly family members — whose estates they might covet — by encouraging them to end their lives.”

Meanwhile, the usual gaggle of luvvies, show-business personalities, academics and intellectuals, to say nothing of trendy clergymen, has been prominent in calls to legalise euthanasia in Britain.

They are campaigning for a Bill which would permit doctors to prescribe fatal drugs to patients with no more than six months to live, and a “clear and settled” intention to end their lives, which, as the Dutch and Belgian experiences show, is quite futile as a safeguard against abuse, quite apart from the fact that “less than six months to live” can seldom if ever be definitely established.

Under current British law, helping someone to take his or her own life can carry a jail sentence of up to 14 years.

Professor Theo Boer, a senior Dutch ethicist who supported euthanasia and oversaw the law when it was introduced in Holland, has now advised the UK not to blindly follow suit. He says that it would lead to widespread killing of the sick. “Don’t do it, Britain,” he urged last year. “Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely ever to go back in again.”

Reid says, “The Dutch ignored warning that killings would become commonplace, yet now Dr Boer insists assisted suicide has ‘turned a last resort into a normal procedure’.

She continues: “The legalisation of euthanasia has led to ‘Life End clinics’ being set up where Dutch people, if faced with a reluctant local doctor, are helped to commit suicide. Indeed, mobile teams of euthanasia doctors operate across the country who will kill people in their own homes if their own GP refuses on ethical grounds.” (It sounds a bit like a ghastly Monty Python sketch: “This is your friendly neighbourhood executioner calling!”)

According to Reid: “The pressure to push the legislative boundaries is never-ending in the Netherlands. In 2010, a citizens’ initiative called Out Of Free Will demanded that all Dutch people over 70 who feel tired of life should have the right to professional medical help in ending it all. Many thousands of people supported this idea.

“But the euthanasia business does not just concern the elderly. It is now acceptable for a doctor to end the life of a baby, with the parents’ consent, if it is in pain or facing a life of hopeless suffering.

“The Royal Dutch Medical Association estimates that 650 newborns are killed every year because they fall into this category.

Dr Eduard Verhagen, a Dutch paediatric medical expert who supports this practice, says a child can even be killed on the grounds that it is distressing for a parent to watch it in pain.

Even physically healthy people suffering from depression have been killed by doctors under Holland’s right-to-die laws, and a 54-year-old woman with personality and eating disorders is reported to have received lethal injections at a ‘Life End’ clinic.

Indeed, according to Holland’s health minister, several right-to-die deaths have involved psychiatric patients, despite the fact that they are not able to make an informed decision. It is easy to imagine confused or sick old people being pressured into consent by squeamish children or — coming so often to the same thing — impatient heirs.

The number of mentally-ill patients killed through euthanasia has trebled in a year, official figures reveal. In 2013, a total of 42 people with severe psychiatric problems were killed by lethal injection in Holland compared with 14 in 2012 and 13 in 2011. 

It is not clear whether they or their families took the decision to end their lives, but the law allows for unbearable suffering — including mental anguish — to be grounds for euthanasia. As in all cases, the final decision rests with the ethics committee.

Reid also spoke to the family of a 47-year-old woman with tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears, who was killed last March with the help of a euphemistically-named ‘Life End’ clinic. She left behind two children, a boy of 13 and girl of 15.

However, in Holland it is common for the killing to be carried out by a doctor visiting the “patient” at home and administering a lethal injection.

All over the world, “entitlement culture “ places pressure on medical services to clear hospital beds as quickly as possible. As Nazi Germany showed, the slope from euthanasia with safeguards to undisguised institutionalised murder is easily traversed.

Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer. He was recently joint winner of the Prime Minister’s $80,000 history prize for his book, Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II (Sydney: Quadrant Books, 2013), which is available from News Weekly Books.

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