Dutch Death

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Apr 13, 2001 12:00 AM
The Netherlands, by a peaceful and democratic process, just gave its doctors a license to kill.

The New York Times, as usual, got the story embarrassingly wrong, calling the new law "aided suicide": "The new law insists adult patients must have made a voluntary, well-considered and lasting request to die." The law explicitly allows patients to give a physician the right to kill them when in the doctor's opinion they are too physically or mentally ill to decide for themselves, provided he can get a second doctor to agree.

Unlike my native state, Oregon, which sadly became the first in our country to authorize suicide under restricted circumstances, the victims of the Dutch Death need not have a fatal illness and they need not administer the death blow themselves. Two doctors backing each other up are now authorized by the law to get rid of life they consider unworthy of living. This is not assisted suicide. This is not even euthanasia. This is murder, pure and simple -- especially when, considering our rapidly advancing pain-control technology, it is the doctor's skill, knowledge and compassion that decide whether or not a patient's suffering will be made bearable or not. The victims of the Dutch Death will be people we will never know about, never hear from: the ones who would have recovered, the ones who might have embraced their suffering, the depressed and mentally ill whose cries for help are met with efficient dispatch.

Doctors will take on the dual burden of healing and hurting. And the power thrust upon them by the law will corrupt, as such power does. Doctors will get used to the idea, their hospitals will benefit financially from dispensing with expensive care of the chronically ill, and elites who get off on breaking taboos will praise their callousness as courage.

If you doubt how easily doctors (like other people) can get used to murder, consider what happened last summer in France, where euthanasia is officially a crime but "mercy killing" is gaining ground. At La Martiniere, a 120-bed clinic in a suburb of Paris, prosecutors uncovered a scandal over " killing for convenience by overworked staff," as The Guardian put it. As usual in such cases, it was the nurses who rebelled.

Six nurses reported that doctors were giving "cocktails of death" to intensive care patients so they could have their weekends free. "I thought I was going mad," one nurse said. "It seemed that everyone avoided talking about what was going on. I remember seeing an old patient walking about and laughing, and then the next day she was dead."

Doctors' consciences were no obstacle. "He gave us the impression that he was doing people good," a colleague said, describing the process. "In the end, the practice became institutionalized." Some killed were neither old, nor in a coma, nor even near death, one of the nurses told a French radio show. In the Netherlands, it is now official policy.

How will Europe react to legalized murder in its midst? Probably ignore it, maybe rationalize it. What about us? It seems to me such a radical departure from civilized norms requires an official reaction, lest we dishonor our own war dead. Officially sanctioned murder cannot be treated as just an internal matter for the Dutch. In the long run, it calls into question our special alliance with Europe, which is ultimately based on shared values as much as it is on national self-interest.

At a minimum, Congress should offer refugee status to any Dutch citizens who fear that now or in the future they may be killed by the Dutch medical establishment (an arm of the government in states with nationalized health-care systems). Give us your tired, your poor, the sick who are now the hunted, yearning to breathe free.