Advocates of euthanasia continue to press their case, in spite of ample evidence of abuses being committed where it is already legal.
In Australia’s recent national election, long-time euthanasia supporter Dr Philip Nitschke stood, unsuccessfully, for a senate seat in the Australian Capital Territory. He was one of several candidates for the Voluntary Euthanasia Party.
In a program broadcast a short time ago by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) he described how he encourages people to buy online from China the barbiturate Nembutal. Purchasing or importing this drug is illegal in Australia, but in his book “The Peaceful Pill Handbook,” Nitschke explains how people can obtain it.
Once people have obtained the barbiturate, Nitschke offers the services of a mobile testing laboratory so that people can be assured of its purity.
The September 14 ABC news story described how one young woman, not terminally ill, obtained the drug. Although she lost her money in the attempted transaction, she later suicided.
“The internet is a tool and has many good uses, but when vulnerable people can so easily get hold of information and videos that can do a great deal of harm, it can be devastating,” the woman’s family told the ABC’s Lateline program.
Nitschke defended his actions on the ground of freedom of speech. The chairman of the Australian government’s advisory council on suicide prevention, Professor Ian Webster, disagreed with this stance.
“Overwhelmingly I put my weight on preventing suicide and against promoting suicide methods to elements of the population which are at high risk,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Canada, hearings started this week on Bill 52 in the province of Quebec. According to information posted on the Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Web site Bill 52 is “a very dangerous bill that is full of false claims, euphemisms and ambiguous language.”
According to the coalition it would create a right to euthanasia and does not restrict it to people who are terminally ill. It would also allow euthanasia for people with chronic depression and mental illness.
The executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Alex Schadenberg, has been very vocal in his opposition to the proposal and has published a variety of articles exposing abuses of euthanasia in Belgium.
In a report published September 17 by American’s National Right to Life News, citing information in an article published recently in the “International Journal of Law and Psychiatry,” he described how doctors and nurses in Belgium lack the communications training to deal with the dying in relation to euthanasia.
The journal article also noted that in some cases nurses administered the lethal drugs without the supervision of a doctor. In other cases patients were euthanized without having made an explicit request.
The article also provided evidence that there is serious under-reporting by doctors regarding cases of euthanasia.
In another article published by National Right to Life News, on August 28, Schadenberg cited a study published in the “Journal of Pain and Symptom Management,” which showed very few requests for euthanasia in Belgium are denied. In fact, only 5% are refused. This compares with 12% in the Netherlands.
Schadenberg has also recently published a brief, 62-page booklet that collects information from a number of published studies about the practice of euthanasia in Belgium.
In “Exposing Vulnerable People to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide,” he concluded that when a doctor does not report a death as being due to euthanasia then it is often the case that the legal procedures are not observed.
Schadenberg estimated that up to 47% of euthanasia cases are not reported in Belgium. In such cases the patients are likely to be more than 80 years of age and often incompetent to give consent to euthanasia.
Among the reasons for not reporting cases of euthanasia are the desire to avoid the administrative burden, and also to avoid the fact that the legal requirements cannot be met.
Schadenberg expressed concern over patients who suffer from depression. One study showed that requests for euthanasia by people with depression was 4.1 times higher than for patients without depression.
Moreover, he noted that in Belgium not one doctor has faced prosecution for carrying out euthanasia outside the legal requirements, even though there is ample evidence of such cases.
Euthanasia is being increasingly accepted in Belgium and is growing. Evidence of that is a report on September 13 by the UK’s Independent newspaper that a Belgian senate committee has under consideration a proposal to extend the possibility of euthanasia to children.
There is also a proposal to allow people in the early stages of dementia to request they be euthanized when their condition deteriorates.
People, Schadenberg concluded in his booklet, “need to be cared for and not to be killed.” A principle that is, unfortunately, increasingly under attack in a number of countries.