A December 10, 2014 posting by True Dignity guest author W. Carol Cleigh showed how the practice of assisted suicide has expanded over the sixteen years since it was legalized in Oregon (http://www.truedignityvt.org/whats-going-oregon/).
The French journal LePoint recently interviewed Etienne Montero, dean of the law school at Belgium’s University of Namur and author of Rendezvous with Death: Ten Years of Legal Euthanasia in Belgium. He spoke about the expansion of euthanasia in that country, both in numbers of people dying, and in the relaxation of the regulations in the law.
Here in Vermont, where five prescriptions have been written in the twenty months since legalization, but there has not been a single confirmed death, some may be tempted to believe that, since the law has not been used, it is not dangerous and doesn’t need revisiting. The Oregon experience and the Belgian experience should tell us something else, which is well summed up by Montero: Supply creates demand.
Reason tells us that legal doctor-assisted death starts out slowly but then grows and spreads. The facts in Belgium prove this out, just as do the facts in Oregon, if one looks below the hype.
We need to repeal the Vermont law before this can happen. Legislators in other states need to think carefully, examine the evidence, and reject attempts to use the Brittany Maynard death to sell them on the idea of legalizing assisted suicide.
Here’s the article, which can be read in French at http://www.lepoint.fr/societe/euthanasie-l-offre-cree-la-demande-15-01-2015-1896667_23.php.
Frank Van Den Bleeken, held for life for rape and murder, should have been euthanized on January 11. Judged not responsible for his actions, he demanded to die because of “unbearable” psychological suffering, according to the words of his lawyer, Jos Vander Velpen. A demand accepted by the Belgian ministry of Justice last September.
Because his doctor did an about face at the last moment, because the government has finally accepted his transfer into a psychiatric center, a transfer that he had been requesting in vain for years, this death has not in the end taken place. It was a close call. And, for the first time in this country that all Europe observes because it is the only one, with the Netherlands, to have legalized euthanasia in 2002, Belgian public opinion is questioning itself about a law of which the conditions of application have not ceased to be relaxed.
Interview with Etienne Montero, dean of the faculty of law at Namur:
Le Point: For the first time, the law authorizing euthanasia, in Belgium, is being criticized. One speaks, with the Ven Den Bleeken case, of “the death penalty” the other way round…
Etienne Montero: The death of Frank Van Den Bleeken did not take place, but in its wake, 15 other prisoners have already formulated a demand for lethal injection. And people have forgotten it, but in September 2012 a 48 year old psychiatric prisoner was well and truly euthanized…Our country has been condemned 14 times by the European Court of Human Rights because we maintain in prison, under conditions that do not correspond to their state, some people with psychiatric illnesses judged not responsible for their actions. They need treatment, they are accepted for euthanasia, and these limited cases reveal how the barriers imposed in 2002 have been jumped over one after the other.
The number of Euthanasias has grown?
In an exponential manner, yes. In a dozen years, it has passed from 199 to 1,454 deaths a year. And I am speaking only of the cases reported by the doctors to the commission of control, because the public powers admit that there is no way of knowing the number of euthanasias really practiced, without doubt much larger. Moreover, in November 2014, euthanasia was legally opened to minors, and this whatever their age.
How is the legality of legal injections checked?
By a commission that goes through the reports transmitted by the doctors. But it acts as a check afterwards, that is to say at a time when the people have already died, and the commission has at its disposition only the information which the doctor who did the injection wants to communicate. All is therefore biased. Moreover, in a dozen years, no dossier has been sent on to the legal authority (justice)…
One doctor, even a general doctor, can he decide by himself to accede to the demand of the patient?
It can be the family doctor, yes, but the law obliges him to ask for a second opinion. The problem is that, in order to facilitate the procedure, a network of doctors has been put in place__(Here he gives the initials or names of some networks that the translator could not identify or find online). It’s about doctors formed to practice euthanasia and to whom most times the appeal for a second opinion is made. Or there are some doctors won over to the cause of euthanasia, often members of ADMD_Association for the right to die with dignity. There again, the ethical check is biased.
You have studied attentively the reports rendered by the commission of control for a dozen years. What have you concluded about them?
The law says that, to gain access to euthanasia, it is necessary to be in a state of a grave and incurable pathology, and of unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved. But these two conditions are no longer interpreted today as they were in 2002. Today, for example, the commission admits cases of multiple pathologies. They are often of aged people who suffer, for example, from declining eyesight, from arthritis, from deafness, from renal insufficiency… Some of these pathologies, certainly incurable, are not grave, but it is accepted today that the collection of these pathologies due to old age justifies the demand and the cases of euthanasia of persons suffering only from the consequences of great age, if they are multiple.
And “unbearable suffering”, is it not also a criterion required to be evaluated?
One speaks especially of physical but also of psychological suffering. And there also, the interpretation of the law has evolved. In 2002, there was no question of euthanasia of the depressed, of the demented, of psychotics. Today, people among these (groups) are euthanized every year. Now, when euthanasia intrudes into psychiatry, it is disturbing, because psychiatry consists precisely in bringing back the élan of patients who have lost it.
It is not then indispensable, in order to gain access to euthanasia, to be well and truly at the end of life?
Not at all. More and more people are demanding death, and they are obtaining it, even when their death is not at all expected in a short time. By the way there has appeared now the astonishing notion of preventive euthanasia. It is applied to patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s who, still lucid, ask for the lethal injection before the advanced symptoms of the malady are manifest. It was applied to the case of the Verbessen brothers, deaf twins who had been diagnosed with glaucoma, who would have become blind over a long period, and who decided to be euthanized in 2012…One asks, and one obtains death not because one suffers, but because one is afraid of the idea of suffering…Countries who are considering a possible legalization ought to understand that supply creates demand. When euthanasia was authorized a dozen years ago in Belgium, it was presented as an ethical transgression, an exception reserved for extreme situations. A dozen years later, its field of application has been considerably extended.