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Experts warn Australians against following overseas experience with euthanasia

by Debra Vermeer, Mercatornet, 16 January 2017

Ms Vermeer interviewed Professor Margaret Somerville, “a prominent anti-euthanasia voice in the Canadian debate leading up to the introduction of ‘assisted dying’ (physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia) laws there last year”.

She says claims by Australian pro-euthanasia advocates, including media personality Andrew Denton, that euthanasia and assisted suicide is working safely overseas don’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

“Wherever it has been legislated there are very serious problems,” she says.

In Quebec, Canada, where doctor assisted suicide has been legal since December 2015, a recent report on the first seven months of the law’s operation found that 262 people died by ‘Medical Aid in Dying’ – almost three times the number of deaths previously predicted by the Province’s Health Minister.

In 21 of those 262 deaths, or eight per cent of cases, the doctors had not complied with the law. Eighteen of the cases did not have the opinion of a second, independent doctor; in two cases it was found that the person might not have been terminally ill; and in one case it was not clear that the person even had a serious illness.

“Now when the law is brand new and you still can’t get doctors to comply with it, what hope have you got once complacency sets in?” Professor Somerville says.

“And one of the things that pro-euthanasia people argue is that euthanasia or assisted suicide will be rare. Well, 262 cases in just seven months is not rare.

Ms Vermeer also interviewed Professor Theo Boer, a Dutch ethicist who initially supported the euthanasia law in the Netherlands.

Today, one in 25 deaths in the Netherlands is the consequence of ‘assisted dying’. On top of those voluntary deaths there are about 300 non-voluntary deaths annually, where the patient is not judged competent.

“Furthermore, contrary to claims made by many, the Dutch law did not bring down the number of suicides; instead suicides went up by 35 per cent over the last six years,” he wrote.


“For a considerable number of Dutch citizens, euthanasia is fast becoming the preferred, if not the only acceptable mode of dying for cancer patients,” he said via email.

“Although the law treats assisted dying as an exception, public opinion is beginning to interpret it as a right, with a corresponding duty for doctors to become involved in these deaths.”

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