The Brave New World of Holland

A while ago I wrote about the experiences of the female journalist who investigated the leading New Zealand surrogacy website:

Before I go into what she found there let me ask you what you think about surrogacy. You may believe it is a noble idea of helping the couples who would like to become parents but cannot conceive naturally. This is what I thought before reading the article but the reality is much more complex. The forum described in the article was full of people who wanted to experience the joys of parenting outside what is normally understood as a traditional family. (…) I think we should stop and think what this really means in the context of the social reality around us.

Looks like, in the light of the recent developments in the Netherlands, there is one more social innovation we should collectively stop and think about. Quoting from the News:

When we think about euthanasia, many of us picture an elderly person. They’ve had many good years, but an illness has ruined their quality of life. They’re in pain, and they want to end things on their own terms. For many people, this is an easy concept to accept. But a recent case in the Netherlands is getting a lot of media attention, and it’s troubling ethicists. A sexual abuse victim in her 20s was allowed to go ahead with assisted suicide as she was suffering from “incurable” post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD), according to the Dutch Euthanasia Commission.

There is a wealth of angles here and good on the News for exploring them:

Nikki Kenward, from disability rights group Distant Voices, said: “It is both horrifying and worrying that mental health professionals could regard euthanasia in any form as an answer to the complex and deep wounds that result from sexual abuse.”

UK Labour MP, Robert Flello said: “It almost sends the message that if you are the victim of abuse, and as a result you get a mental illness, you are punished by being killed, that the punishment for the crime of being a victim is death.

 

Assisting a victim of sexual abuse to commit suicide sounds dodgy, does it not? At least some psychiatrists agree:

 

Australian psychiatrist and mental health campaigner Professor Ian Hickie echoed these sentiments, labelling the girl’s euthanasia “entirely inappropriate”. “It makes all sorts of poorly substantiated assumptions about causation, available treatments, supportive care and prognosis. It really demonstrates how the current concepts around euthanasia cannot be applied to mental illness”.

 

But maybe this was just an isolated case of a euthanasia request approved on the grounds of serious mental illness? Apparently not:

 

Beyond the example of the 20-year-old, there is an overall rise in the number of people with mental illness using voluntary euthanasia in Holland. Whereas just two people had themselves euthanised in the country in 2010 due to an “insufferable” mental illness, 56 people did so last year.

 

According to some this is not necessarily a bad thing:

 

While euthanasia opponents find this statistic alarming, Dr Nitschke has the opposite response, and finds the figures “reassuring”. “It shows that in Holland there is the acknowledgment that serious mental suffering can be as debilitating as physical illness and should not be excluded from the option of an elective death to finally end their suffering. The increase reflects the growing acceptance of this within the medical profession”.

 

So should euthanasia be available to all those who want to take this option?

 

Nitschke (…) told The Guardian, “the reality is, a portion of our population will suicide and I don’t think we should make it so hard. We need to acknowledge that suffering comes in many forms and if a rational person sees death as a solution, it’s their decision, it should be respected”.

 

My pick is that within our lifetime euthanasia will go the way of other social innovations like abortion and elective surrogacy. From a last resort desperate measure it will become a universally accepted lifestyle option – though “lifestyle” may not be an ideal term to use here. The incremental mechanism which will lead to this outcome has been described in my post on pushing the social boundaries. It is only a matter of time.

Syringue-8

 

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