Dutch courts and physicians have turned euthanasia into a “cure” for chronic illnesses like depression and diabetes, says the author or a new book on euthanasia in Holland.

Dr. Herbert Hendin, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the Dutch like to boast that their suicide rate has dropped in the 20 years since their courts became the first in the world to sanction euthanasia.

But he says they have “cured” suicide by “ending patients’ lives rather than treating depression.

“What was supposed to be intended for exceptional cases has become a routine way of dealing with serious medical problems.”

Dr. Hendin said Dutch courts first sanctioned assisted suicide as a compassionate way to deal with exceptional cases, those few hundred patients per year who were dying in extreme pain and wanted some solution other than total sedation.

But he said Holland has since made euthanasia a routine way of ending the lives not only of the terminally ill but also those with treatable chronic illnesses like depression, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Euthanasia has also been legally sanctioned to end the lives of some deformed infants.

Dr. Hendin said that, like German physicians and philosophers of the Nazi era, the Dutch view euthanasia as a sign of compassion for suffering people.

“The Germans considered they were acting with compassion too, because idiots and mentally ill people couldn’t enjoy living.

Ironically, during the Second World War, Holland was the only occupied country whose doctors refused to go along with the German euthanasia program.

Dr. Hendin said that, unlike Canada, the U.S. and other countries, Holland has little palliative care for the dying because death has become the more accepted way of dealing with the terminally ill.

Today, Dutch physicians help end the lives of about 6,400 people every year in ways that in Canada probably would be considered both unethical and criminal.

Ottawa Citizen