euthanasia, assisted suicide

Holland Considers Expanding Assisted Suicide Rights

March 10, 2010 04:00 PM
by James Sullivan
Proposed legislation in Holland would grant anyone older than 70 who felt they had lived a complete life the right to die.

The Dutch Right to Die

In Holland, the first country to legalize euthanasia, right-to-die advocates have presented the Dutch parliament with 112,500 signatures prompting further debate on the country’s assisted suicide laws.

Under consideration is a proposal that would allow doctors to “administer a lethal potion” to people over the age of 70 who “consider their lives complete.”

The legislation would be a dramatic expansion of the country’s current euthanasia laws, which grant anyone experiencing “hopeless and unbearable suffering,” as verified by a pair of doctors, the right to die.

“Supporters say it would offer a dignified way to die for those over 70 who just want to give up living, without having to resort to difficult or unreliable solitary suicide methods.”

Currently, euthanasia laws in Switzerland permit residents and foreigners to self-administer deadly drugs prescribed by physicians. 

Background: High-profile assisted suicides

After Daniel James, a 23-year-old rugby star, was paralyzed during training in 2007, he “found his life so unbearable and had tried to commit suicide three times,” his mother, Julie James, told the Daily Telegraph in October 2008. Both of Daniel’s parents traveled with him to an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland where he died on Sept. 12, 2008. After his death, his parents were placed under police investigation, due to the fact that assisted suicide is illegal in Britain.

But in December 2008, the Daily Telegraph reported that Daniel’s parents would not face charges “because they had pleaded with him ‘relentlessly’ to change his mind.”

In February, a British Appeals Court refused to assure Debbie Purdy, a 45-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis, that her husband would not face charges if he accompanied her to a Swiss suicide clinic. Purdy prevailed on appeal to the House of Lords, and in September 2009, Britain’s Department of Public Prosecutions issued guidelines on prosecuting suicide cases.

In July 2009, celebrated British conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife, Joan Downes, died with assistance at a Swiss clinic called Dignitas. Mr. Downes, known as Ted to his friends, was a conductor for the Royal Opera House for more than 50 years and was losing his vision and hearing. Lady Downes, formerly a dancer and later her husband’s personal assistant, was diagnosed with cancer.

According to their children, the couple died “peacefully and under circumstances of their own choosing,” though their deaths rekindled the debate over assisted suicide.

Opinion & Analysis: Should assisted suicide be legalized?

According to the Death with Dignity National Center, “The greatest human freedom is to live, and die, according to one's own desires and beliefs.”

Although an amendment to the U.K.’s 1961 Suicide Act was rejected in the U.K. in July, proponents of physician-assisted suicide have become more vocal and are even setting some boundaries.

Jo Cartwright, of the U.K. activist group Dignity in Dying, told The Guardian, “We need to regulate and safeguard it in this country making it available for only those who are terminally ill and mentally competent.”

In 2000, Dr. Steven J. Taylor, a critic of physician-assisted suicide, summarized the two arguments in an article for the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University. On one hand, some terminally ill people believe in the option of “death with dignity,” Taylor wrote.

Others believe, however, “that it is never moral to take the life of another human being, that physicians must always act as healers—never as killers,” according to Taylor. Supporting critics of the practice, Taylor notes that Dr. Jack Kevorkian has assisted in the deaths of more than 130 people in the U.S. According to a 1997 report from the Detroit Free Press, 60 percent of those people didn’t have terminal illnesses.

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