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Dutch regulator resigns over dementia killings

24 January 2018

"I have seen a major shift in the interpretation of [euthanasia law] in recent years"

A Dutch euthanasia regulator has quit her post in protest at the killings of patients suffering from dementia, reports BioEdge.

The Catholic Herald observes that the number of dementia patients killed by euthanasia has risen fourfold over the past five years. 

Berna van Baarsen, a medical ethicist, said she could not support "a major shift" in the interpretation of her country’s euthanasia law to endorse lethal injections for increasing numbers of dementia patients: "I do not believe that a written declaration of intent can replace an oral request for incapacitated patients with advanced dementia."

Under Article 2.2 of the Dutch euthanasia law, a doctor may euthanise a patient who can no longer make clear what he wants, but who had previously left a written declaration.

"In people with a terminal illness like cancer, in whom euthanasia has already been agreed but who suddenly ended up in a coma because of their illness, that's fair," says van Baarsen.

"However, dementia is a very different kind of ailment. That disease is more erratic and patients often live longer. A lot of things can happen during that period. For instance, a patient might say that she would want euthanasia if she no longer recognises her relatives."

"This could happen. But at a next visit she can still recognize her partner or her children. What is the right moment to grant euthanasia?"

Van Baarsen's resignation follows that of ethicist Theo Boer in 2014. Mr Boer has become a harsh critic of the Dutch euthanasia system, warning British parliamentarians not to follow the Dutch example and to vote against Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill in 2014.

In the Netherlands, euthanasia is also a legal option for children (ages 12 – 18) with parental permission and to newborns, who are younger than one, based on the “Groningen Protocol.”

"I have seen a major shift in the interpretation of this article in recent years. I cannot support that," says Miss van Baarsen.

Shifting interpretations 

Earlier this week, SPUC issued a warning to this effect in light of Noel Conway being granted permission for a full appeal hearing. Mr Conway and the pro-euthanasia lobby, in a bid to legalise assisted suicide are seeking to overturn England's Suicide Act 1961, which, as it currently stands, would prohibit a doctor from administering lethal doses of drugs.

SPUC's Dr Anthony McCarthy responded: "Once the idea of lives with no remaining value takes hold, we see the expansion of claims to be allowed to die simply because the patient wants this (for example an older person who is merely 'tired of life'). In legislatures where assisted suicide and/or euthanasia is permitted and data is available we have seen an ever-widening scope of people being allowed and encouraged to end their lives. Appalling numbers of people have already been killed non-voluntarily, both the elderly and children."

"Mr Conway's distressing condition makes it all the more important that he and others in a similar position are given the best medical and palliative care, including any necessary psychological and emotional support, while his life's intrinsic value is always affirmed and not denied."

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