Dutch and Belgian laws as ‘stepping stones’
HOPE Symposium. Adelaide May 2015.
“I am worried that the liberty of some may lead to a loss of freedom of others.” Professor Theo Boer
On the 22nd and 23rd of May this year, 110 people opposed to euthanasia & assisted suicide converged on Adelaide, South Australia for the Fourth International Symposium associated with the work of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.
Drawing delegates and speakers from across the globe, the focus of this event was: Standing Strong, together. Supporting the necessity of working together across diverse backgrounds for our common cause of opposing euthanasia & assisted suicide law.
The event was hosted by HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide in partnership with Euthanasia Free New Zealand, Doctors Opposed to Euthanasia and the disability network, Lives Worth Living.
Opening the full day program was an address via video from Dutch Professor, Theo Boer. Readers may recall that on 10th of July last year a headline in the UK Daily Mail thundered:
Don't make our mistake: As assisted suicide bill goes to Lords, Dutch watchdog who once backed euthanasia warns UK of 'slippery slope' to mass deaths.
Former member of one of the Dutch Euthanasia Evaluation Commissions, Theo Boer, had changed his mind and had begun to warn other countries of his concerns about the Dutch experiment.
Boer reminded delegates about what it was that had created his about face. These issues included the rapid escalation in number, the expansion of the criteria, the creation of mobile euthanasia teams etc., all leading to his conclusion that, “(p)erhaps the mere existence of a law is an invitation to see assisted dying as a normality instead of a last resort. The Dutch and Belgian laws on assisted dying, instead of being a respectful compromise, much rather function as stepping stones towards more radical changes in the way we organize our deaths. The offer of assisted dying may be a relief to some. But it also sends unwanted signals to terminal patients, elderly citizens, to people suffering from life, yes, to anyone who knows that life can very, very hard. The signal that death may be a good remedy for suffering. The signal that a natural death is a terrible and inhumane death. The signal that autonomy equals dignity. The signal that in the end we can do without you and that we’re not the ones to keep you in the boat.”
Boer worries that this push for, ‘the liberty of some may lead to a loss of freedom of others.’
As the day unfolded, we heard Boer’s chilling concerns echoed through the voices of some who had been directly affected by this creeping culture of death. As I observed, though Belgium and the Netherlands have advanced well beyond legalisation that the effects of this creeping death culture are evident even in places, like Australia, where euthanasia & assisted suicide remain as unlawful acts.
“Needless to say, we should respect if patients refuse life-prolonging treatment. But actively helping them to die is of a different category. As I said, I can sympathize with those acts on an individual and exceptional basis. But I am no longer convinced that such exceptional acts deserve a legal basis. A society’s signal that it is willing to organize the death for its citizens simply involves too many risks.”
Many years on, this is an echo from the very earliest inquiries into euthanasia. It’s not a matter of ‘we told you so’ - the realities are so harsh and culturally debilitating for cheap point scoring. But it does speak to us about the nature of things; that, regardless of what people may choose to believe about the possibility of containment of a law or the safety of any law, that there will always be those who are at risk, there will always be exceptions and that exceptions will become the rule.