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Euthanasia calls The Netherlands into question. But old and sick people need treatment, not an executioner

A proposal from the government leaves the door open to “easy death” for people affected by senile dementia. A firm “no” by the faithful working in the field of healthcare. The position of the Medical Ethics Foundation, of the Christian Association of Dutch senior citizens, and of the association of Catholic Physicians

Some events that have occurred in Holland over the past weeks appeared to confirm the stereotype whereby in The Netherlands there is a great yearning to die, or to put to death, very old people or those seriously ill. Indeed, according to figures released by the Association of Dutch Doctors (Knmg), 5,300 assisted suicides were performed in 2014 (10% more than the previous year). Consulting with those involved in this sector with various roles, the picture that emerges is slightly more reassuring, though not without questions and problems.

From theory to practice. First of all it is necessary to reconsider the facts. Past December 17 the government of The Netherlands published a document on the possibility for people with a diagnosis of senile dementia to express their consent to euthanasia in a written statement. “As a matter of fact, unfortunately this option is not new, but it’s integrated within the already broad boundaries of the law that provides for the practice of euthanasia,” Fr Lambert Hendriks, president of the Catholic Foundation on Medical Ethics, dean of the Rolduc seminary, told SIR: “People who want euthanasia must always ask for themselves, but the diagnosis of dementia is no longer considered an obstacle for the physician to proceed with the request. Thus nothing has changed in theory, but a lot does change in practice. This fact highlights the weaknesses and the malice of the law,” Hendriks went on. “Patients could undergo euthanasia, following a previous request made in specific conditions, but they would undergo this practice in a situation whereby they no longer have a healthy mind.”

Shared responsibility. Manon Vanderkaa, president of UNIE KBO, a Catholic-inspired association with 190.000 elderly Dutch members, provided a more articulate picture: physicians will bear the burden of the responsibility of authorizing euthanasia. However, the latter will have to “ascertain that the patient is in a constant state of unbearable suffering”, a condition envisaged by the law to perform euthanasia.

In fact, doctors performing euthanasia on patients lacking the condition of unbearable suffering will be charged with culpable homicide.

A pill to die. Meanwhile the pro-euthanasia Nvve Association (Nederlandse Vereniging voor vrijwillige euthanasie) has re-launched a campaign to make available a deadly pill to all senior citizens over-70 who request it. However, our interlocutors downsized our concerns: “In the 1990s, the legalization of the so-called ‘Drion Pill’, from the name of its proponent, the Dutchman Huib Drion, was first proposed by the Minister for Health Els Borst, causing quite a stir”, Vanderkaa explained. “Since then, no minister has advanced a similar proposal. There are too many risks. ” Fr Hendriks pointed out: “Since euthanasia has been widely accepted, there is no longer the need for a deadly pill. Some movements still support it but they have little say in the debate. Moreover, it’s important to remain vigil, as public opinion is easily influenced.” KNMG, an association of Dutch physicians, has also expressed its opposition. In a letter released on January 5 KNMG physicians wrote: “Granting old people the possibility to have access to a similar substance would implicitly mean recognizing the fact that their life deserves less protection than the life of young people, thereby sending out an extremely negative message to society.” But above all, “not all those who want to die do so as a result of voluntary and deliberate decisions. In most cases their death-wish arises from fears linked to social isolation, financial difficulties, drug abuse, psychiatric problems or personal crisis leading to the desire to die.” Thus the answer is not a deadly pill, but support. “Our volunteers who make home visits have reported cases of old people who feel lonely and would prefer to be dead,” Vanderkaa pointed out. “But not all of them would actually want to be helped to put an end to their lives. In many cases being cared for, coupled by spiritual support, are much more appropriate solutions.” On these grounds the efforts of Unie Kbo are intended to “support quality treatment that extends beyond the mere clinical aspects”, training volunteers “to support the elderly and the sick and to attentively listen to their needs.”

The example of Wojtyla. In this case the situation is largely due to draconian cuts in social spending over the past two years, which, “as in many Countries, are part of the government’s struggle with budgets, rather than the consequence of a change in attitude towards older people,” said Hendriks. Moreover “Unie Kbo, like many others, is concerned about the fact that

In our societies we hastily consider the care of the elderly in terms of public spending

especially when it comes to assisting old people suffering from serious forms of dementia.” For Hendriks “Dutch society is lacking an appropriate understanding of the value of the human person: a gift of God, with inalienable dignity, that remains also when the body ages and difficulties emerge. Saint John Paul II is a laudable example of this.”

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