Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are becoming legalized – and normalized – in more and more jurisdictions around the world. While originally intended to allow a swift and painless death for patients with terminal illnesses, they’re increasingly being used to end the lives of people who are perfectly healthy. What’s the difference between these two practices? In euthanasia the doctor takes the lead; in physician-assisted suicide, as the term suggests, the doctor stands by and helps out. Euthanasia, in turn, can be broken down into categories. It can be voluntary or involuntary, passive (withholding treatment) or active (for example, administering a lethal drug). In practice, it’s not always easy to draw lines between one of these things and another, and legal definitions vary from one nation to another.
When I wrote about this topic for Front Page in 2014, active euthanasia was allowed in three countries in the world: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Now, it’s also permitted in Colombia and Canada, with India allowing passive euthanasia. In several other nations and U.S. jurisdictions – namely Switzerland, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Washington state, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Montana, California, and the District of Columbia – euthanasia is illegal but physician-assisted suicide is permitted. It should also be pointed out that in many countries with socialized health-care systems, while technically forbidding euthanasia or assisted suicide, have what may fairly be described as death panels, which effectively condemn patients to death by denying them life-saving treatments in cases when the cost to the government is deemed to be too steep in comparison to the benefits accorded to the patient.
There’s more. The Netherlands and Belgium don’t just allow euthanasia for adults. In those countries, terminally ill persons as young as twelve years old may also choose to be put to death. Then there are the cases of people who aren’t physically unwell but are nonetheless considered expendable. In the Netherlands, people whose only illness is psychological are allowed to check out with the help of a doctor. In an article published in March, Cassy Fiano-Chesser wrote about a 29-year-old Dutchwoman named Aurelia Brouwers, who “suffered from anxiety, eating disorders, depression, psychosis, and a history of self-harm.” Brouwers asked to be put to death, and her doctors complied.
There’s no excuse whatsoever for this. It’s extremely common for people with serious psychiatric issues to either try to off themselves or to ask to be taken out. Responsible doctors don’t help them cross the bar; they try to help them get better. But that’s apparently an old-fashioned view in the Netherlands, where abetting the self-slaughter of the mentally unstable is a growth industry: in 2012, there were 12 assisted suicides of mentally ill persons; in 2014, 43; in 2016, 64; in 2017, 83. In addition, 169 people in the Netherlands were euthanized last year on the grounds that they were afflicted with dementia, even though most of them were in the early stages of memory loss. In the Netherlands, Fiano-Chesser notes, “people have been euthanized for being autistic, suicidal victims of sexual abuse, or addicts. Other victims have suffered delusions or heard voices.”