Legal safeguards cannot protect vulnerable people

 
Euthanasia-Free NZ is convinced that legal euthanasia and assisted suicide is dangerous and cannot be made safe.

Belgium and the Netherlands pride themselves on their ‘safeguards’. Yet the number of people illegally euthanised each without request is far higher than the number killed by ‘legal’ methods. Most are not officially reported. [1] These governments do not protect unsuspecting citizens.

 

Safeguards are being ignored

 
In Belgium and the Netherlands euthanasia laws are regularly circumvented by some health professionals. Each of the safeguards have been ignored. According to a 2010 study, 32% of euthanasia deaths in Flanders, Belgium, occurred without an explicit request. [2] 
 

Safeguards are unenforceable, no matter how they are written

 
It would be futile to “tweak” the safeguards. Because euthanasia laws are based on self-reporting, none of their safeguards will be enforceable.

The relationship between a doctor and a patient is confidential. Much may happen behind closed doors with the doctor and the patient as the only witnesses. When a doctor has performed euthanasia on a patient, the doctor is the only remaining witness. It is up to the doctor to report whether he or she has followed all the legal requirements. It’s simply too easy for a doctor to fudge the paperwork or simply not report the death as euthanasia.
 
 

The mere existence of legal assisted suicide and euthanasia puts pressure on vulnerable people

 
Currently our society accepts it as a given that ill, disabled and elderly people need to be cared for until their natural death, even if it would cost others time, money and effort. There is simply no other legal option. Euthanasia and assisted suicide laws would make being cared for optional.

If assisted suicide and euthanasia would be legal, a person with a terminal illness or other irremediable condition would have two options: request death or stay alive. These options are not equal and therefore

It’s easy to see how requesting death would be considered “the selfless choice”. A lethal dose of drugs is much cheaper than treatment and ongoing care. By dying a person’s organs may be available to others. The person could also feel that their death would save relatives time and effort, enabling them to go on with their busy lives.

People who choose to stay alive would effectively choose to be a burden on their relatives and on society.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, 40% of people who requested legal assisted suicide cited concern about being a burden as a reason for their decision. [3] 

Read a more detailed discussion here
 
 

Our response to criticism from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society

 
We claimed on our original “8 Dangers of Legal Euthanasia” flyer that:

“Euthanasia laws elsewhere are regularly circumvented by some health professionals.
Legislation can never protect vulnerable people, the frail, the elderly and the disabled from pressure to terminate their ‘burdensome’ lives, or worse, from being killed without consent.
A 2010 study revealed 32% of euthanasia killings in Flanders, Belgium had no specific request.”

 
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society published the following in response: “The above is simply untrue. In fact, there are good international studies to confirm that the vulnerable are not targeted and are safe. Rates of assisted dying showed no evidence of heightened risk to the vulnerable compared with background populations.

“Battin, A van der Heide and L. Ganzini et al., “Legal Physician-Assisted Dying in Oregon and the Netherlands: Evidence Concerning the Impact on Patients in ‘Vulnerable’ Groups.” J Med Ethics 33 (2007): 591–97.

“Assemblée Nationale Québec, Select Committee “Dying with Dignity Report,” March 2012.”
 
Here is our response to claims made by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society:
 

The Battin study is flawed

 
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society base their claim on a single study: “the Battin study”. [4] 

The Battin study has not passed peer review. Both the study’s methodology and interpretation have been criticized, leading to the conclusion that the study proved nothing.

A major flaw in the Battin study is its definition of “vulnerable”. It also defined the elderly as being 80 years or older, ignoring senior citizens aged 79 and younger.

The Battin study ignored the fact that depressed people are at risk of dying from suicide and assisted suicide.

The Battin study is out of date. It’s based on official data from Oregon and the Netherlands only, and only up to 2005. The Dutch data shows different trends from 2007 onwards.

Read a more detailed discussion of problems with the Battin study.
 

Subsequent studies found that euthanasia laws are abused

 

Several peer-reviewed studies have found that euthanasia and assisted suicide safeguards are being ignored by some health professionals. Some of these studies also found that vulnerable people are indeed at risk of being victims of these abuses.

A 2009 study found that older Belgians were more likely to die by euthanasia without an explicit request and people who die by euthanasia with an explicit request were mostly younger patients. [5] 

A 2010 study on euthanasia deaths in Belgium found that the use of life-ending drugs without explicit patient request occurred predominantly among patients 80 years or older who were mostly in a coma or had dementia. The researchers concluded that this group “fits the description of “vulnerable” patient groups at risk of life-ending without request” – a conclusion that contradicts the findings of the Battin study. [6]  

The Quebec Select Committee report was biased and ignored several peer-reviewed studies

 

The Quebec Select Committee Dying with Dignity report relied heavily on the flawed Battin study and dismissed all studies that came to contrary conclusions.
 
 
Read a more detailed discussion here

References

[1]  Richmond, D.E. (2016, Oct 30). A Submission to the Health Select Committee, New Zealand Parliament in respect of its inquiry into Ending one’s life in New Zealand: International insights (2nd ed.). par 43-65. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.nz/resource/en-NZ/51SCHE_EVI_51DBHOH_PET63268_1_A540354/26316bac92e7459b4ac9b2b266d7a9b4bd4bf7a5

[2]  Chambaere, K., Bilsen, J., Cohen, J., et al. (2010). Physician-assisted deaths under the euthanasia law in Belgium-a population-based survey. CMAJ, (182), 895-901.]

[3]  Oregon Public Health Division. (2015). Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act annual report Year 17 – 2014. Retrieved from https://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year17.pdf

[4]  Battin, M. P., Van der Heide, A. and Ganzini, L. et al. (2007, October 33). Legal physician-assisted dying in Oregon and the Netherlands: evidence concerning the impact on patients in “vulnerable” groups. J Med Ethics, 2007 October; 33(10), 591–597. doi: 10.1136/jme.2007.02233533

[5]  Bilsen, J. (2009). Medical end-of-life practices under the euthanasia law in Belgium. N Engl J Med 2009; 361:1119-1121 doi:10.1056/NEJMc0904292]

[6]  Chambaere, K. et al. (2010). Physician-assisted deaths under the euthanasia law in Belgium: a population-based survey. CMAJ, 182(9): 895-901 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.091876

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