House Calls of Death

He was serious alcoholic. His disease was so severe, his addiction so powerful, that 21 stints in rehab had failed. His marriage had fallen apart, his children had been taken in by his parents, he was unemployed, lonely and miserable. He was 41 years old and in his mind his battle against alcohol had been permanently lost. He gave up any hope of recovery and went to his primary care doctor looking for a special kind of help. On July 14 of this year his doctor gave him the “help” he requested. His doctor killed him.

The patient, Mark Langedijk, lived in Holland, the country with the world’s most liberal euthanasia laws. Physician administered death is common there, in 2015 more than 5500 Dutch citizens had their lives ended at the hands of a doctor. That calculates to about one of every 2000 Dutch adults. In Holland, having your life ended by a physician is not a rare event. 

The law, as originally introduced 16 years ago, was purported to be about allowing patients with terminal diseases to choose the timing and means of their own passing, a way for patients doomed with incurable and progressive illnesses to control their destiny and avoid needless suffering.  That is not the current reality. The scope of conditions for which physicians are allowed to give lethal injections has widened considerably. A young woman in her 20’s struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder from child sexual abuse was recently determined to have mental suffering severe enough to justify ending her life. A physician injected her with heart stopping medications.

An increasing number of states in the US have passed laws for physician assisted suicide, which makes the Dutch experience all the more sobering. All of these state laws were advanced with the same arguments and promises given in support of the laws in Holland.  Opponents of these laws who feared widespread and inappropriate use of euthanasia were accused of lacking compassion for the suffering of others. Proponents of these laws consistently argued against “slippery-slope” arguments, saying that controls and limits were included in the laws to make sure they would not be abused.

The reality is that slippery slope arguments are always valid. When society moves in a direction it typically continues in the direction. The debate is not about whether we will move towards greater use of euthanasia, that will happen. The only question is the steepness of the slope and the speed of our descent. When a society crosses the line and says that some lives can be terminated they have embraced a system in which society has the right to determine which lives are worth living and which are not. The stories from Holland remind us that once that line has been crossed,  that over time more and more lives will be determined unlivable and more lives will be ended by physicians.

If there is no course correction, Americans will one day wake up in a world where death doctors are performing house calls, a thought which should be sobering to us all.


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reference- The Daily Mail November 30, 2016