Recently the Canadian Medical Association Journal released a study of 1678 nurses in Belgium and found that a significant number actively euthanize their patients—with or without the consent of the patients. The statistics are stunning, and led the researchers to conclude that “[i]t seems the current law… and a control system do not prevent nurses from administering life-ending drugs.” This is exactly what we have been saying all along: “Safeguards” do not work. The slide to involuntary euthanasia is inevitable once the door to physician-assisted suicide has been opened.
Belgium provides an interesting backdrop for such a study. Both physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal in Belgium. However, any life-ending drugs administered by someone other than the patient are to be administered by a physician.
The dramatic findings of the study are hard to encapsulate in a single blog post, but some examples will suffice. The researchers only questioned the nurses about their most recent experience with a “life-ending decision.” Of the 1678 nurses surveyed, 120 reported that their last patient had been involuntarily euthanized—meaning there was no consent from the patient. Only four percent of those nurses reported that the patient had ever expressed his or her wishes about euthanasia to them.
And because each nurse was only questioned about his or her last patient with a “life-ending decision,” the numbers of patients involuntarily euthanized by nurses is likely much higher.
The researchers also found that patients were more likely to be euthanized without consent if they were over 80 years old. This reaffirms the fact that assisted suicide and euthanasia quickly lead to elder abuse.
The researchers concluded that by administering life-ending drugs, the nurses in the study were operating beyond the legal margins of their profession.
But even in light of the stunning statistics revealed in this study, the researchers make excuses for the nurses: Perhaps they overestimated the actual life-shortening effect of the drugs they administered. Or perhaps they were more directly confronted with patients’ suffering than the physicians, and felt the need to act. But each of these downplays the nurses’ knowledge of their profession and creates an escape from criminal liability. The researchers even go so far as to suggest, despite the fact that patients expressed their wishes in only a small percentage of cases, that “the physicians and nurses probably acted according to the patient’s wishes.” “Probably”? This conclusion is not supported by the study and directly counters what the nurses themselves reported.
The researches also try to confuse the reader with intricate terminology. They refer to voluntary euthanasia (where a patient is euthanized with his or her consent) as simply “euthanasia,” but they refer to involuntary euthanasia (when a patient is euthanized without consent) as “the use of life-ending drugs without explicit request.” Whether intentional or not, this categorization is confusing, and lends itself to an interpretation that the researchers maintain a position biased toward the active euthanasia of patients.
Yet regardless of this perceived bias, the researchers do admit that their findings may be tainted by “recall bias,” the underreporting of incidents because nurses are reluctant to report illegal acts. As such, the number of nurses participating in the active euthanasia of their patients is likely much higher than even revealed by this study.
Suicide advocates in the United States would like for us to believe that any abuse created by the availability of physician-assisted suicide can be curtailed by “safeguards” and laws delineating rules and guidelines. But the Belgium study has made it clear that it does not matter what the law says; where physician-assisted suicide (and in Belgium, euthanasia) are available, abuse will inevitably follow.