Monday, April 2, 2007

Dutch Euthanasia

Wesley J. Smith, at First Things, writes about euthanasia in the Netherlands, upon the fifth anniversary of its legalization. Euthanasia is always presented as a mercy to the person who will be killed - as "assisted suicide." But encouraging the old, the sick, and the vulnerable to believe that they and society would be better off if they were dead becomes pressure to die. Smith refers to a book titled Dancing with Mr. D by a Dr. Bert Keiser describing his work killing human beings:
.... For example, there’s Van de Berg, a Parkinson’s patient who asks for euthanasia. But before Keizer can kill him, Van de Berg receives a letter from his religious brother telling him that it would be a sin to commit suicide and would violate the way they were raised as children by their parents.

The man hesitates. Keizer is not amused. From page 94:
And now this letter, which to my surprise, he takes seriously. I don’t know what to do with such a wavering death wish. It’s getting on my nerves. Does he want to die or doesn’t he? I hope I don’t have to go over the whole business again. . . . Suddenly, I have an idea: “You know what we’ll do? We’ll ask Hendrik Terborgh, our vicar. Would you agree to that?” He cries and types “yes.” ...

Next day Hendrik tells me that it’s all right. He refers to his meeting with Van de Berg. “Well, he knows what has to be done. He knows what he wants now.” . . . It goes well. He has good veins.
Keizer does not tell us what the vicar told Van de Berg, but I think it is a good bet he didn’t engage in suicide prevention or validate the brother’s religious concerns. Also, note that Keizer is far more concerned about the bureaucratic matters than with the well being of his own patient. One can imagine how depressing it would feel to have such a doctor, how alone and abandoned it would seem.

Here’s another form of pressure: Not telling a patient about the ability to control pain, or even waiting for a final diagnosis before agreeing to kill a patient. Keizer is asked to euthanize Teus, a man whom he thinks—but does not know—has lung cancer. He discusses the case with his colleague on page 37, who asks if the patient is really suffering badly. “Is it for us to answer that question? All I know is that he wants to die more or less upright and that he doesn’t want to crawl to his grave the way a dog crawls howling to the sidewalk after he’s been hit by a car."

Patients with cancer do not have to die in this manner. Proper medical care would prevent it. But this is never mentioned to the patient. Nor, from what we read, does Keizer even know about the powers of morphine to control cancer pain. He doesn’t even discuss hospice with Teus or his family—which is outrageous negligence. Instead, as he describes on page 39, when Keizer gets ready to euthanize Teus, he will countenance no doubts: “I tell Jaarsma and De Goover [Keizer’s colleagues] that Teus is going to die that evening. Jaarsma seems sore but raises no objection. De Goover looks sharply at me, trying to work out how scared I am. If anyone so much as whispers ‘cortisone’ or ‘uncertain diagnosis,’ I’ll hit him.”

The most telling passage in the book may come when Keizer is asked by a colleague whether he should love his patients. “‘What about love,’ Herman wonders. ‘Shouldn’t you love your patients, if only a little?’ I don’t know right away what to say. I think it’s good for the profession if I heave a deep sigh now and declare my assent. And there are situations that upset you. But love? I doubt it.”
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Dutch Euthanasia

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