Recently, there have been some disturbing trends in Europe towards fewer restrictions on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Pressures also are appearing to establish a “right” to be killed.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2002. The Netherlands had effectively legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide by the decree of the courts in 1985, with the 2002 legalization simply codifying accepted practice into law.

The euthanasia law in Belgium was based on the Netherlands statute. It is recognized that the so-called safeguards in the Netherlands and Belgium laws were based on court precedents and political compromise. Now that the law has been in place for several years, there is an interest in changing the law towards gaining a universal “right” to die.

Recently, Luxembourg moved closer to legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, with legislation passing second reading and going into hearings. It is widely expected that Luxembourg will be the third European nation to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In 2003, a group of “ethicists” at the Groningen University Hospital began looking at the question of infant euthanasia in the Netherlands. The 2002 law allowed the euthanasia of consenting persons over the age of 12. The problem that the committee at Groningen University was attempting to solve was: what should be done with newborns that are born with anomalies? The Groningen Protocol was promulgated in 2005 and established a set of guidelines to be followed for the purpose of euthanizing infants in the Netherlands. The Groningen Protocol was based on reports from Dutch physicians concerning the deaths of 22 infants who were born with spina bifida. Dutch physicians were not being prosecuted when they euthanized newborns with spina bifida based on the Prins case in 1997. Prins was a physician who escaped prosecution after he euthanized an infant with spina bifida.

The Groningen Protocol allows euthanasia of infants when the parents give consent and when the child is considered to lack an “acceptable” quality of life. These decisions are made based on quality-of-life judgements that are connected to the new eugenics ideology promoted by Peter Singer of Princeton University that is becoming more prevalent in our current culture.
Increasingly, euthanasia is being promoted for more than just the terminally ill. At the World Federation of Right to Die Societies Conference in Toronto in September 2006, Dr. Rob Jonquiére, the president of NVVE, the leading euthanasia lobby group in the Netherlands, explained that the goal was the legalization of the “last-will pill.” This is a prescription that would be given to healthy individuals (usually the elderly or people with disabilities) who were tired of living.

In March, legislators in Belgium announced their attention to change the euthanasia law in their country to include infants, teenagers and people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Switzerland has tolerated assisted suicide for many years. Suicide groups have been assisting suicide within Switzerland based on a legal interpretation of their 1918 suicide law. In other words, Switzerland never legalized assisted suicide, but tolerates the practice based on a legal interpretation. The Dignitas Suicide clinic is probably the best known of these groups.

In Switzerland, the Dignitas clinic has now changed its suicide technique from the use of a prescription to that of the plastic bag with helium (an exit bag). The clinic is known for its encouragement of suicide tourists from countries around the world where euthanasia is not permitted or tolerated, who go to Switzerland to die. It is estimated that two out of three people who die at their suicide clinic are suicide tourists.

Ludwig Minelli, the founder and director of Dignitas, has stated that they have changed their technique to using the plastic bag with helium method to eliminate the need for a physician to agree to assisting the death, because even many physicians who support assisted suicide would often refuse to write lethal prescriptions for people who weren’t dying or suffering.

In France, there was the case of Chantal Sébire, a woman who had tumours in her head that had caused her to become significantly deformed, and who had lost her sense of smell, her hearing and her sight. Sébire requested that she be allowed to have assistance with suicide. Her case was so emotionally compelling – the tumours in her face no doubt repulsed many viewers — that 87 per cent of the French population supported her request for assisted suicide.

After the courts refused Sébire, she committed suicide. We have since learned that Sébire had refused effective medical treatment for her condition from the very beginning. Her physicians explained that she could have had treatment in 2002 that would most likely have returned her to full health. She also refused pain management help that would have effectively relieved her pain and symptoms.

In Germany, Roger Kusch, a former German government minister, announced that he was planning to loan out suicide machines to people who wished to die. This is not a new concept. When Jack Kevorkian first began his campaign in Michigan he was using a simple contraption to allow the person to commit suicide.

In Europe, the euthanasia lobby is becoming bolder and more extreme. They have let go of their traditional anthems of voluntary euthanasia for the competent and suffering to that of language that would lead to euthanasia as a human right.

All of this serves as a useful reminder that the issue of euthanasia is not about terminal illness, compassion for the dying or ending suffering. Euthanasia is about having someone end your life at the time of your choosing or for society to allow someone to end the lives of incompetent vulnerable people who are unable to realize that they are better off dead. Europe shows this frightening future once the floodgates of euthanasia are opened.

Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.