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Warnings on overseas
he practice of euthanasia
overseas has been a disaster,
with so-called safeguards
failing and doctor-assisted
killing on the rise, and not just for the
terminally ill, says world-renowned
ethicist Professor Margaret Somerville.
“It’s a mess, and a growing mess,” she
Professor Somerville (pictured), who
spent 40 years living and working in
Canada, has returned home to Australia
to take up the position of Professor of
Bioethics at the University of Notre
Dame Australia, Sydney.
“Wherever it has been legislated there
are very serious problems,” she says.
In Quebec, Canada, where doctor-
assisted suicide has been legal since
December 2015, a recent report on the
first seven months of the law’s operation
found that 262 people died by ‘medical
aid in dying’ – almost three times the
number of deaths previously predicted
by the Province’s health minister.
In 21 of those 262 deaths, or eight
per cent of cases, the doctors had not
complied with the law. Eighteen of
the cases did not have the opinion of a
second, independent doctor; in two cases
it was found that the person might not
have been terminally ill; and in one case
it was not clear that the person even had
a serious illness.
“Now when the law is brand new and
you still can’t get doctors to comply
with it, what hope have you got once
complacency sets in?” Professor
“And one of the things that pro-
euthanasia people argue is that euthanasia
or assisted suicide will be rare. Well, 262
cases in just seven months is not rare.
“Officially, around four per cent of all
deaths in Belgium and the Netherlands
are euthanasia or assisted suicide. Now if
we translated that rate to the population
of Australia, we’d have about 6000
deaths by euthanasia or assisted suicide
a year. I don’t call that rare.”
Professor Theo Boer has also expressed
concerns about the explosion in numbers
of people accessing euthanasia in
Belgium and the Netherlands, and the
growing variety of reasons other than
terminal illness for which people are
Professor Boer is a Dutch professor of
ethics, who supported the legalisation
of doctor-assisted dying, and was
appointed to one of the five regional
review committees set up by the Dutch
government as a watchdog over the
euthanasia laws when they were enacted
He says that from 2005 to 2014 he
reviewed close to 4000 cases of assisted
dying on behalf of the Netherlands
Ministries of Health and Justice and
believed it was working well.
“But that conclusion has become
harder and harder for me to support,” he
wrote in the Christian Century journal
“For no apparent reason,
beginning in 2007, the numbers of
assisted dying cases started going up
by 15 per cent each year. In 2014, the
number of cases stood at 5306 – nearly
three times the 2002 figure.”
Today, one in 25 deaths in the
Netherlands is the consequence of
On top of those
voluntary deaths there are about 300
non-voluntary deaths annually, where
the patient is not judged competent.
‘In some reported
cases, the suffering
largely consists of
being old, lonely or
“Furthermore, contrary to claims
made by many, the Dutch law did not
bring down the number of suicides;
instead suicides went up by 35 per cent
over the last six years,” he wrote.
Professor Boer also noted a shift in
the type of patients who were seeking
euthanasia. In the first years of the Dutch
laws being enacted, about 95 per cent of
patients accessing euthanasia or assisted
suicide were in the last days or weeks
of a terminal illness, but an increasing
number of patients now seek assisted
dying because of dementia, psychiatric
illnesses and age-related complaints,
with terminal cancer now accounting for
fewer than 75 per cent of cases.
“In some reported cases, the suffering
largely consists of being old, lonely or
bereaved,” he said.
Professor Boer believes that raising
awareness about advances in palliative
care is crucial to combatting the drive
towards euthanasia, especially for
people who have been scarred by poor
palliative care of loved ones in the past.
“For a considerable number of Dutch
citizens, euthanasia is fast becoming
the preferred, if not the only acceptable
mode of dying for cancer patients,” he
said via email.
“Although the law treats assisted
dying as an exception, public opinion
is beginning to interpret it as a right,
with a corresponding duty for doctors to
become involved in these deaths.”
If doctors refuse a patient euthanasia
or don’t wish to be involved, there are
now mobile euthanasia units in the
Netherlands that will visit patients in
their homes or nursing homes.
Similarly, in Belgium the figures for
2015 show a 41 per cent increase in
euthanasia/assisted suicide deaths over
In 2014-2015, nearly 4000 people
underwent euthanasia in Belgium,
of which 124 cases were justified on
the basis of behavioural, mental or
psychological disorders, rather than a
terminal illness. Among the reasons
given for euthanasia is that elderly
patients were ‘tired of life’.
Last year, the first child was euthanised
in Belgium after the law was amended to
allow for this. In the Netherlands, some
babies born with Spina Bifida had been
In the United States, Oregon’s Death
with Dignity Act (DWDA), enacted
in late 1997, allows terminally ill
adult Oregonians to obtain and use
prescriptions from their physicians
for self-administered, lethal doses of
medications. The Oregon Public Health
Division is required by the Act to collect
information on compliance and to issue
an annual report.
But Professor Aaron Kheriaty,
associate professor of psychiatry and
director of the Medical Ethics Program
at UC Irvine School of Medicine, says
that there are serious problems with the
laws in Oregon and many documented
cases of abuse, as well as a dramatic
increase in suicide rates.
“I have evaluated and treated
thousands of patients who wanted to end
their life,” he wrote in an opinion piece
which appeared in California’s The
“A request to die is nearly always
a cry for help. Among terminally
ill individuals, it is associated with
depression in 59 per cent of cases. Yet,
alarmingly, in Oregon, less than five
per cent of individuals who have died
by assisted suicide were ever referred
for psychiatric consultation to rule out
the most common causes of suicidal
Crossword No. 182
Despite the narrow defeat of assisted suicide legislation in the South Australian Parliament
late last year, the push to introduce similar laws in Victoria and New South Wales has been
gaining momentum. Advocates cite overseas examples as proof of adequate safeguards but
closer scrutiny reveals some alarming trends, writes DEBRA VERMEER.
Solution page 22
Prayer services focusing on women of the Philippines were held throughout the State on
March 3 to celebrate the 2017 World Day of Prayer. An ecumenical service at Pilgrim Uniting
Church in the city was attended by Church and community leaders, including Labor MPs Peter
Malinauskas and Tom Kenyon. Moderator of the Uniting Church in SA, Rev Sue Ellis, was the
guest speaker at the event and the Filipino Aged Care of SA Choir (pictured) provided the
music. World Day of Prayer is a worldwide movement of Christians who come together each
year to observe a common time of prayer to which all are welcome.
World Day of Prayer
1 Saint, scholar and Doctor of
the Church, and Archbishop of
11 Data; knowledge (informal).
12 Promotions; offices or ranks
with special privileges.
15 Abbreviated street or saint.
16 Slime; semi-dried suds.
17 Affirmative reply (Sp.).
18 Woman turned into a cow after
seduction by Zeus.
19 First words of two Latin hymns
associated with Holy Week (5,6).
24 Measure of acidity or alkalinity.
26 Organic waste product acid.
29 Era designation added to years
30 Prince and martyr of Visigoth
33 Pertaining to the mouth.
34 Vase; receptacle; large water
35 Large electronics and media
36 Well built; adequately
2 Birthplace of St Benedict.
4 Wine refuse.
5 Two North African saints – one
martyred, one diocesan founder in
6 River in Tasmania or one
encountered by Simple Simon.
9 Personal name.
13 English ‘public’ school.
14 Greek letter.
19 Port in Cyprus from which St
Paul sailed for Perga.
21 North east Asian desert.
25 Priestess of Aphrodite,
loved by Leander; strongman;
28 Sure thing (colloq.).
31 Went quickly on foot; operated.
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