Help from the government: The introduction of ‘therapeutic nihilism’

Joe Carter, writing last week at his First Things blog, takes a hard look at how the Netherlands has fallen steeply into the pit that is assisted suicide. It’s not a pretty picture, as he examines how the Netherlands has consistently expanded the ways doctors can help you kill yourself — or kill you without your permission — with government approval. The latest foray is legislation that would allow assisted suicide for anyone who has reached the age of 70 and has grown tired of living:

In any other country, such a proposal might be considered radical and shocking. But in the Netherlands—the country that first legalized euthanasia—the change in the law will merely decriminalize a practice that has been occurring for decades. An examination of how this formerly conservative, tradition-bound culture could adopt what the modern Hippocratic Oath refers to as “therapeutic nihilism” is useful for understanding how the other nations will begin to accept euthanasia in the near future.

Carter goes on to explain how this has crept into Dutch law little by little to the point where the medical community has been given the benefit of the doubt to the point where it is the one doing the policing authority when it comes to reporting abuses, if at all.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Justice, of the 135,675 deaths recorded in 1995, 3,600 (2.4%) were the result of a doctor-assisted termination of life while another 238 (0.3%) were cases of assisted suicide. The most disturbing statistic, however, is that 913 (0.7%) were terminations of life without the express request of the patient. For every three lives ended at the request of the patient, one person was killed without consent. While it is assumed that these cases consisted of terminally ill patients with no chance of survival, no one in the Netherlands knows for certain. Because the numbers are based on self-reporting by physicians, no accurate data exists to determine exactly how many Dutch citizens have been killed against their will.

Another comprehensive survey by Dr. Paul J. van der Maas in 1996 showed that the situation had indeed worsened since 1990. The total number of cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide had risen by a third from 2,700 to 3,600, with an estimated 60 percent not being officially reported. The number of cases of euthanasia without request by the patient also remained high, with 900 cases being reported. Although the government passively accepted the practice, doctors were still legally susceptible to prosecution if a disgruntled family member disagreed with the killing of their relative. Legislation to decriminalize euthanasia, which had been repeatedly proposed since 1984, was finally passed on April 10, 2001. A criminal liability exclusion was added for doctors who willingly reported their actions and demonstrated that they have satisfied the criteria of “due care.”

This is the kind of “culture of death” that not only exists, but exists with the approval of the government. If you are shocked by this, then that is good. When “tired of living” — aside from any physical illness — becomes an accepted reason for ending a person’s life, then we know that something has gone horribly wrong.

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