Daily Dispatches
Mary Harned
Photo courtesy of AUL
Mary Harned

Death wish: Following in Belgium’s footsteps


Belgium is currently discussing two bills to expand its euthanasia laws—one allowing minors the right to euthanize, and the other allowing elderly patients with early Alzheimer’s to sign a document authorizing euthanasia once their disease further develops. Though euthanasia is illegal in all 50 U.S. states, efforts to legalize assisted suicide in the U.S. grows every year.

Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002, after the Netherlands did. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Belgium initially allowed euthanasia to help incurable patients who were experiencing “unbearable physical or mental suffering.” In 2011, more than 1,100 Belgians had euthanasia requests approved, five times more than in 2002. Now, euthanasia accounts for about 1 percent of all deaths in Belgium.

Activists promoted euthanasia as a caring procedure that would help dying patients make a choice to end their suffering and promote their happiness. But Mary Harned, a lawyer with Americans United for Life (AUL) notes nine out of 10 patients who request euthanasia really have undiagnosed depression. Treating the depression takes away the desire to die. A 2003 Dutch government report also concluded that more than half of euthanasia and assisted-suicide-related deaths were involuntary. The Remmelink Report said at least half of Dutch physicians actively suggest euthanasia to their patients. Harned says families also apply pressure.

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Following the example set in Europe, American euthanasia proponents are increasing efforts to legalize assisted suicide here. Ten states reviewed physician-assisted death bills this year. Vermont was the only state to pass an assisted suicide bill, making it the fourth state in the nation to allow assisted suicide, along with Oregon, Montana, and Washington state. Georgia and Idaho passed legislation making assisted suicide illegal in 2012—Massachusetts voters rejected a similar ballot initiative.

Many Americans oppose assisted suicide because they believe it is a slippery slope to euthanasia. Assisted suicide advocates in the United States disagree, saying they support “aid in dying,” rather than suicide. Kathryn L. Tucker of Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group for assisted suicide, defines “aid in dying” as “the practice of a physician prescribing medication that a mentally competent, terminally ill patient can ingest to bring about a peaceful death if the dying process becomes unbearable.” 

AUL says “aid in dying” is simply physician-assisted suicide by another intentionally misleading name. 

Another misleading phrase states and countries use to support euthanasia is “death with dignity.” Oregon, the first U.S. state to legalize assisted suicide, called its 1994 bill the “Death with Dignity Act.” A New Jersey assisted suicide advocacy group, “Final Exit Network,” assists people in the US with death by putting an “exit bag” over their heads, inserting helium through a tube, and holding their hands. Their slogan: “supporting the human right to a death with dignity.” The group told The Wall Street Journal they have assisted in about 350 suicides so far.

AUL’s Harned said, “The best way to preserve someone's dignity when they are terminally ill is to help them live the best life possible, by assisting them with obtaining quality palliative care.  Every day of their life is valuable and it should not be cut short because of pain, depression, or the fear of being a burden to those they love.”

Alissa Robertson
Alissa Robertson


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