Monday, February 3, 2014
the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt fourteen)
from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:
Decades after World War II, arguments for legalizing voluntary euthanasia again gained traction in several European countries. In 1973, a Dutch court ruled that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (whereby a doctor provides medicine that a person can take to commit suicide) were not punishable under certain circumstances, and imposed only a symbolic, suspended sentence. These acts were decriminalized in the 1980s and formally legalized by a vote of the Dutch parliament in 2001. Similar laws passed in Belgium in 2002 and Luxembourg in 2009. In Belgium, one pharmacy chain made home euthanasia kits available for about €45, complete with the sedative drug used at Memorial, midazolam; along with the anesthetic drug sodium thiopental (Pentothal), which Dr. Ewing Cook used at Memorial to euthanize pets; and a paralyzing agent that stops breathing. The kits were intended for use by doctors in patients’ homes. Doctors could prescribe them for specific patients who had signed a request for euthanasia at least a month in advance, after having discussed it with two independent doctors. The Dutch and Belgian laws did not require a terminal medical condition for a euthanasia request to be granted.
In each country, legality rested on different guidelines, which at first appeared to offer important safeguards. For example, in the Netherlands, euthanasia was supposed to be limited to people who made repeated requests to die and were experiencing, as certified by two doctors, unbearable suffering without the possibility of improvement. However, a study of the program showed these rules were not always followed, and a small proportion of people were killed each year without having made an explicit request. There were few prosecutions in these cases. Were the Dutch merely more honest about their practices? Or did the legalization of one form of euthanasia bleed, inexorably, into the other, darker kind?