BreakPoint with Charles Colson
January 13, 2003
'Therapeutic' Death in a Dutch Nursing Home
In 2002, twelve states considered legalizing so-called "physician-assisted
suicide," like the Oregon law adopted a few years ago. While none of the
proposals passed, advocates of what is farcically called "death with dignity"
will keep on trying.
Christians need to expose "death with dignity" as the inhumane fraud that it is. A good place to start is by looking at what happened to one Christian family in the Netherlands.
Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in Holland since 1973. This makes the Dutch experience a lesson in what we can expect to happen if we follow its example. And its a lesson that should scare anyone who anticipates ever getting sick or oldas the Reitsema family learned.
Grandpa Reitsema was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. And while his lymphoma was terminal, he was expected to live for a few more years. And he would have, if his nursing home had been located someplace other than Holland.
The first hint that something was amiss came when one of his daughters tried to give him some water. A nurse entered the room and said, "Dont give him water." When the daughter asked why not, the nurse replied, "Youre not allowed to give him anything to drink."
What the Reitsemas didnt know was that their grandfathers doctor had, as Jonathan Imbody of the Christian Medical and Dental Society put it, "aimed to kill" Grandpa. Without consulting his patient or the family, the doctor had "quietly ordered nurses to administer overdoses of morphine while withholding food and water." By the time the Reitsemas understood what was going on, it was too late. Grandpa died the day after his daughters run-in with the nurse.
The Reitsemas attempt to figure out what had happened led them to discover what Imbody calls the "dirty Dutch secret": Seventy-five percent of the time a Dutch doctor acts to hasten a patients death, he acts without the patients permission. By some estimates, more than five thousand Dutch patients are killed each year by their doctors. In other words, physician-assisted suicide has turned into involuntary euthanasiaor, as it is called in more traditional societies, murder.
Of course, advocates of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia dont see it that way. When Grandpa Reitsemas daughter confronted the doctor, he replied, "But he was sick! Dont you understand, dont you get it? I was just helping him out."
The grandson, a disciple of Francis Schaeffer, told Imbody that the doctors worldview and the familys represented two "radically opposed" worlds that "couldnt meet": "[The doctor] couldnt understand my aunt, and my aunt couldnt understand him."
That the doctor couldnt understand why someone would regard life as sacred and object to involuntary euthanasia is almost as frightening as what the doctor did to Grandpa. Whats just as frightening is how close that worldview is to whats being taught in American medical schools and in American medical journalssomething Ill address tomorrow.
The Reitsemas story is a cautionary tale about what awaits us if we go down the same road as the Dutch: a world where the sick have good reason to fear their doctors.