Retired Dutch physician Richard Fenigsen wrote in the journal Issues in Law and Medicine last year that, in his home country, "the lives of many people are deliberately put to end ... sometimes without his or her request, consent or knowledge."

About 23 years ago Dutch prosecutors cut a deal with doctors: Follow a few simple rules, and you can assist your patients to commit suicide. Essentially the patient must be terminally ill, have made repeated requests for assistance in suicide and suffering must be unbearable.

But in practice, more than half the time, Dutch doctors kill patients without the patients' knowledge or consent; they justify this by saying it is what they think is best. And it is not just the old and sick who die. Newborn babies with disabilities are being killed, as are children who are gravely ill, Dr Fenigsen reports.

One baby with Down Syndrome was born with a blockage of the digestive tract. Instead of fixing the defect with simple surgery, the hospital and parents chose to do nothing and let the baby die.

A boy in 1990 with spina bifida and hydrocephalus fell ill for a few days, and his parents and physician decided to kill him. One of his three nurses opposed the decision, and with her husband went to the parents and offered to adopt the infant but the boy was killed by lethal injection anyway.

There are other disturbing cases. A 27 year-old who developed arthritis in her toes asked for, and received, help in committing suicide because her life was no longer worth living if she "could no longer be a dancer".

Elderly Dutch citizens are now afraid for their lives in a land where such sentiments are rising. Dr Fenigsen notes, "As early as 1984 to 1987 there were scattered reports that some older people, afraid of involuntary euthanasia, refused to be admitted to nursing or senior citizens' homes, avoided visiting doctors' offices, and, when admitted to a hospital, refused to take medicines and even drink orange juice."

According to Dr Fenigsen, "Euthanasia is not just changing medicine, it's replacing medicine."

Excerpted from "Last Rights", by Roy Maynard, World magazine, 23 Mar 1996.


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