Rick Santorum - photo by Marc Nozell

Santorum, the Netherlands, Euthanasia and Hypocrisy

Election 2012, Human Interest 0 3

Rick Santorum - photo by Marc Nozell

On February 3rd, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum had some interesting remarks about the Netherlands when he spoke at the American Heartland Forum in Columbia, Missouri. In a continued effort to connect what he sees as societal ills in America to events in European countries, Santorum spoke about euthanasia laws in the Netherlands. What he had to say could easily be debunked in a simple Google search. In fact, Wikipedia offers a fair amount of information and would be a better source than Rick Santorum.

from Wikipedia – Euthanasia in the Netherlands:

Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the attending physician acts in accordance with criteria of due care. These criteria concern the patient’s request, the patient’s suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the presence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life. To demonstrate their compliance, the Act requires physicians to report euthanasia to a review committee.

Rick Santorum:

In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is – ‘Do not euthanize me’ – because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized every year – and it’s ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands – half of those people are enthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick. And so elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, they will not come out of that hospital if they go in there with sickness.

Leave it to conservatives to gasp at ridiculous claims like this. You can hear the audible gasps by at least two people close to the camera. Even if someone I trusted made a claim like this my response wouldn’t be to gasp in horror because my skepticism would automatically kick it and I would have to do my research.

The euthanasia law in the Netherlands allows a person to end their own life – assisted by a doctor – if they are in constant pain and suffering (usually from cancer) and the medical prognosis is that there is no chance for improvement in their condition. This is a very sensitive subject for sure. It goes against what doctors are taught – do no harm. But in these circumstances, there isn’t a clear path which does no harm. Both paths cause harm, so the question is which path does the least harm? In some of these cases where a person is suffering from physical pain and fatigue hour by hour, day by day, it’s not clear to me that you could say prolonging life is the least harm.

Modern medical care has allowed us to increase the average life expectancy by decades but the flip side is that modern medicine allows prolonged suffering because it’s possible to keep someone alive in a situation where they would have long since died in centuries earlier. Indeed, this is a very sensitive subject, but it seems to me that the Netherlands is more advanced than the rest of the world on this issue. They have recognized the benefits but also the limits of modern medicine and they have attempted to offer people the ability to choose the way that they go out in helpless and terminal situations where pain and suffering has become intolerable.

from The Fact Checker – The Washington Post:

In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia

Under the Dutch law, a doctor must diagnose the illness as incurable and the patient must have full control of his or her mental faculties. The patient must voluntarily and repeatedly request the procedure, and another doctor must provide a written opinion agreeing with the diagnosis.

The Fact Checker says that the “do no euthanize me” bracelets do not exist. My guess is Santorum didn’t make that up, he probably read an article in one of any number of right-wing publications and that’s where the lie started.

“According to the Ministry of Health, ‘Do not euthanize me’ bracelets do not exist in the Netherlands,” said Bundy of the Dutch embassy. “In the Netherlands, there are indeed living wills, which are documents in which members can state their wishes regarding euthanasia.”

A few questions to ponder.

  1. Why is it that we don’t consider this an issue of personal freedom?
  2. Why is it that conservatives are less likely to support allowing people to choose to end their own pain and suffering when they profess to be the champions of personal freedom?
  3. How can someone who supports the death penalty, as Santorum does, make the outrageous claims that he did about euthanasia laws in the Netherlands?

I’ll leave you to ponder the first two questions but I’ll tackle the 3rd one myself. It is true that Santorum takes a slightly more nuanced approach to the death penalty compared – oh, I don’t know – Rick Perry, but Santorum does support the death penalty in cases of certainty. “When there is certainty, that’s the case that capital punishment can be used”, said Santorum when Piers Morgan recently asked him about his thoughts on the death penalty. Is there ever a case of absolute certainty when it comes to a murder conviction? Unless the crime was captured by video camera there is never 100% certainty. This is why we shouldn’t have capital punishment, but that’s another article entirely. My point is that Santorum displays hypocrisy when he makes his false claims about euthanasia in the Netherlands when he supports the death penalty in America.

I’m not explicitly endorsing euthanasia laws in the Netherlands. I would need to do a lot more research than I’ve done for this article to make that determination. But I do recognize that modern medicine has its limits and I think the way our medical system handles terminal cases where pain and suffering are unbearable is at odds with personal freedom. There are cases where it could be viewed as cruel and unusual punishment to continue to prolong someone’s life when they are begging to be allowed to die. This is especially true if someone in a situation like this is being kept alive by machines in a hospital. It means their body has already quit but again modern medicine is able to keep them alive and prolong a state of pain and suffering.

Because I need to do more research, that means I’m not advocating an absolutist position on this issue. The core intention of this article is to prove Santorum’s accusations as false, which I believe I have done. A secondary purpose of this article is to highlight something people are not comfortable talking about. Wouldn’t we all want to maintain the ability to make our own decisions about our lives to the end? For Santorum to twist this around – for political purposes – as a plot by government to terminate its citizens is disgusting and insensitive.

dks

photo by Marc Nozell via Flickr

 

from The Rachel Maddow Show on Friday 2/24/2012:


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David K. Sutton

Chief Writer and Editor of The Left Call - I'm a full-time IT engineer, part-time political blogger. I founded The Left Call in 2011 because I believe in social justice, economic equality, and the idea of forming a more perfect union. In addition to written content, I also host the LEFT CALL RADIO Podcast.

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