Danielle van Dalen

By Danielle van Dalen - 18/01/2018

Danielle van Dalen

By Danielle van Dalen -

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Short Cuts Info | A clear boundary isn’t possible

Are we willing to create a law which distinguishes between those whose life is worthy of protection from suicide and those for whom it is allowed?

Our current laws protect all human life equally. No-one’s life is treated differently because of their wealth, ethnicity, or for any other reason.

Legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia would introduce inequality, treating some lives as though they don’t deserve the same protection. These would be the lives of the sick, the disabled, and others who are vulnerable. Everyone in this group would be marked by their medical condition so that the law views their life as less worthy of protection than others, regardless of their own views.

This would encourage a cultural shift. The message of inequality would seep out into society and change our understandings and expectations around sickness, disability and death. Over time, the “choice” to die could become a “duty to die” for the terminally ill and those with chronic, unbearable conditions, as people have found in the Netherlands.1

Once such a distinction in society has been created, there is little we can do to keep it from expanding, enabling the deaths of people we never intended

Definitions like “terminally ill,” “grievous and irremediable,” and “unbearable” are highly elastic:

– Diagnosis and prognosis are recognised by medical professionals as more of an art than a science. In fact, post mortem studies have found that up to 5% of hospital deaths were misdiagnosed, and doctors admit that “even in the last days of life, let alone the remaining weeks some still defy the sincere prognostications of health professions.”2
– While “grievous and irremediable, unbearable conditions” include degenerative diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s or those with severe disabilities, we have also seen international examples using much broader understandings of this terminology. People with the following conditions have all been granted euthanasia or assisted suicide: anorexia nervosa, personality and eating disorders, chronic depression, and deaf 45 year old twins who were going blind. 3

There is no natural or logical limit to a “right” to be killed based upon our subjective understanding of suffering.

Jurisdictions that have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide are already seeing this “right” grow. Here are just some of the examples:

– The Groningen Protocol, introduced in the Netherlands in 2005, now gives doctors and parents the right to determine if a baby’s life will be “worth living,” and euthanise them if not.4
In 2014, Belgium extended euthanasia to terminally ill children.5
– Over the past year the Netherlands has been drafting a law to allow euthanasia for those “tired of life” but not necessarily terminally ill.6
– In the Netherlands 1 in 25 deaths are assisted by a doctor.7
– In the Flanders region of Belgium roughly 30 percent of euthanasia deaths are performed without patient consent, and while the patient is in a comatose state, for example.8
– When asked what their end of life concerns were, people who requested assisted suicide in Oregon from 1998 to 2016 have increasingly named becoming a burden on family and friends as one of these concerns. This increase is seen in the graph below.9

Identifications of being a burden on family, friends and caregivers as one reason for requests of assisted suicide in Oregon 1998 – 2016

Click here to find out how to make a submission on the End of Life Choice Bill
Submissions close Tuesday, 20 February



1 G van Loenen, Do you call this a life? Blurred Boundaries in the Netherlands’ Right-to-Die laws (London, Ontario: Ross Lattner Educational Consultants, 2015), 169.
2 A D MacLeod, “Euthanasia and physician-assisted death,” The New Zealand Medical Journal, (125:1367) 2012, p.128
3 RT News, “Children’s euthanasia bill signed by Belgium King,” (5 March 2014), available at: https://www.rt.com/news/belgium-king-sign-euthanasia-bill-566/ accessed 11 July 2017, and Sue Reid, “In a country where death is now just a lifestyle choice: a mum with ringing ears. Babies with parents who don’t want them to suffer. They’ve all been allowed to die by assisted suicide in Holland,” Daily Mail (2 January 2015), available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2893778/As-debate-assisted-suicide-dispatch-Holland-thousands-choose-die-year.html accessed 11 July 2017
4 G van Loenen, Do you call this a life? (2015) pp. 26-28
5 BBC News, “Belgium’s parliament votes through child euthanasia,” (13 February 2014), available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26181615 accessed 11 July 2017
6 The Guardian, “Netherlands may extend assisted dying to those who feel ‘life is complete,’” (12 October 2016), available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/13/netherlands-may-allow-assisted-dying-for-those-who-feel-life-is-complete accessed 11 July 2017
7 Regional Euthanasia Review Committees, Annual Report 2015, (April 2016), available at: https://english.euthanasiecommissie.nl/documents/publications/annual-reports/2002/annual-reports/annual-reports accessed 11 July 2017
8 K Chambaere, J Bilsen, J Cohen, B Onwuteaka-Philipsen, F Mortier, L Deliens, “Physician-assisted deaths under the euthanasia law in Belgium: a population-based study,” Canadian Medical Association Journal (2010), 182: 895-901.
9 Oregon Public Health Division, Oregon Death with Dignity Act; Data Summary 2016, (10 February 2017)  available at: http://www.oregon.gov/oha/ph/providerpartnerresources/evaluationresearch/deathwithdignityact/pages/index.aspx accessed 11 July 2017

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Danielle van Dalen

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