A Dutch academic who supported legalising euthanasia in the Netherlands has urged Westminster not to introduce assisted suicide, ahead of a debate in the House of Lords next week.
Theo Boer, who has been part of a committee monitoring euthanasia cases since 2005, said the number of such deaths in the Netherlands has soared since the legalisation of euthanasia in 2002.
Boer has reviewed close to 4,000 euthanasia cases and said: “Euthanasia is on the way to become a ‘default’ mode of dying for cancer patients.”
He warned of other developments, such as the rising number of patients with psychiatric illnesses or dementia being euthanised.
“Cases have been reported in which a large part of the suffering of those given euthanasia or assisted suicide consisted in being aged, lonely or bereaved.
“Some of these patients could have lived for years or decades”, he added.
He said: “I used to be a supporter of the Dutch law. But now, with twelve years of experience, I take a very different view”.
Public opinion in the Netherlands, Boer warned, is changing towards seeing euthanasia and assisted suicide as rights with “corresponding duties on doctors to act”.
“Pressure on doctors to conform to patients’ (or in some cases relatives’) wishes can be intense.
“Pressure from relatives, in combination with a patient’s concern for their wellbeing, is in some cases an important factor behind a euthanasia request”, he added.
Boer commented that he and his colleagues were “terribly wrong” in 2007, to conclude that they had a “good euthanasia law” and a “relatively low” number of euthanasia deaths.
“Beginning in 2008, the numbers of these deaths show an increase of 15% annually, year after year.
“The annual report of the committees for 2012 recorded 4,188 cases (compared with 1,882 in 2002).
“2013 saw a continuation of this trend and I expect the 6,000 line to be crossed this year or the next”, he noted.
He added: “Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely to ever go back in again.”
Peers are set to debate Lord Falconer’s assisted suicide Bill in the House of Lords on 18 July.
His Bill would allow terminally ill patients to obtain lethal drugs to kill themselves.