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Euthanasia for mentally ill quadruples in Netherlands

Nikki Kenward of Distant Voices: 'The psychiatric profession is letting people down'

The number of mental health patients killed by euthanasia in the Netherlands has quadrupled in just four years, new figures reveal.

Official annual statistics show that 56 people received a lethal injection in 2015 because they were suffering “unbearably” from psychiatric problems.

In 2011 there were just 13 such deaths recorded, meaning that psychiatric euthanasia cases have increased by more than 330 per cent in the following four-year period.

The new figures also show a 35 per cent increase in the numbers of dementia patients being killed in the space of one year, with cases leaping from 81 in 2014 to 109 in 2015.

While the overall number of deaths by euthanasia in Holland increased by just over four per cent, rising from 5,306 to 5,561, the latest figure represents a leap in euthanasia deaths of 50 per cent in the last five years.

It also means that euthanasia accounts for 3.78 per cent of the 147,000 annual deaths in the Netherlands, or nearly one in every 27 deaths.

The law only permits euthanasia in cases of “unbearable suffering”; most involve people with incurable cancer.

Regulators found “irregularities” with just four cases documented by the Dutch government and these will be investigated further.

Anti-euthanasia campaigners in the UK were nevertheless disturbed especially by the soaring numbers of people with dementia or mental illness among the cases.

Nikki Kenward of disability rights group Distant Voices said the Dutch were failing deeply vulnerable people by offering euthanasia as a solution to their problems.

“Aside from the increase in numbers, what we have here is a mind change, a point of view that is seen as legitimate, even welcomed,” said Mrs Kenward.

“Here we have vulnerable people who are already terribly damaged and saddened by their life experiences only to discover that their struggle to make sense of life can be met by an opportunity to exit it by callous means,” she continued.

“If this is the best that the psychiatric profession can offer in the face of complex and deep needs then we all should be wary of trusting that profession, which is clearly letting people down by a lack of successful treatment and worse.”

Statistics showing the surge in euthanasia deaths among psychiatric patients comes months after a study revealed that a majority of people killed because of mental health problems had complained of “social isolation”.

Researchers in the U.S. found that loneliness was a motivation behind the euthanasia requests of 37 of 66 cases reviewed, a figure representing 56 per cent of the total.

The study by the National Institutes of Health cited the case of a woman of good mental and physical health who was killed by lethal injection because she felt lonely following the death of her husband a year earlier, leading to claims that the Netherlands is operating a de facto policy of euthanasia on demand.

It is likely that euthanasia cases involving dementia cases will continue to rise because earlier this year rules were relaxed to give doctors greater freedom to kill patients who develop the condition.

Government guidance assured doctors they could legally give lethal injections to patients who were no longer capable of expressing a desire to either live or die.

The patient must, however, have signed an advance directive, or “living will”, requesting euthanasia at a time when they still had mental capacity.

Earlier guidance had insisted that a person could only qualify for euthanasia when they could give their full consent.

At present, the Dutch government is considering whether to follow the example of Belgium and extend euthanasia to children.