Sex-abuse victim euthanized in Holland after struggling with depression

Euthanasia
by Julie Borg
Posted 5/19/16, 11:15 am

She was sexually abused from age 5 to 15. Now in her 20s she is dead, euthanized by the lethal injection she requested. As a result of the abuse she suffered as a child, the young Dutch woman developed post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anorexia, chronic depression, and hallucinations, the Daily Mail reported.

Despite her diagnoses, her doctors said she was “totally competent” and that there was “no major depression or other mood disorder which affected her thinking.” And, even though she showed improvements in her mental state after intensive therapy, her doctors deemed her condition incurable. The woman was killed last year, and this month Dutch authorities released details of her death.

In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia. Although legislators put strict guidelines in place, such as the patient must be suffering unbearable pain, the illness must be incurable, and the patient must be fully conscious when making the request, there were many who feared the new legislation was the beginning of a slippery slope that would end with guidelines so fluid anyone who wanted to end his or her life for any reason would be allowed, perhaps encouraged, to do so.

The death of this psychiatric patient in her 20s and others like her may serve to prove the laws are rapidly careening down that slope. “Whereas in the first years hardly any patients with psychiatric illnesses or dementia appear in reports, these numbers are now sharply on the rise,” Theo Boer, a professor of healthcare ethics at Kampen University in the Netherlands, wrote in an op-ed for The Press Democrat.

Boer served on a euthanasia review committee in the Netherlands from 2005 to 2014. At the time, he believed legalizing assisted dying was the wisest and most respectful thing to do. Now, he is concerned about the ever-broadening parameters. “Cases have been reported in which a large part of the suffering of those given assisted dying consisted of being aged, lonely or bereaved,” he wrote. In 2010, only two people in the Netherlands sought euthanasia due to mental illness; in 2014 that number rose to 56.

Nikki Kenward from the disability rights group Distant Voices worries the death of the young woman in Holland sets a precedent that makes it acceptable to kill victims of childhood sex abuse. “It is both horrifying and worrying that mental-health professionals could regard euthanasia in any form as an answer to the complex and deep wounds that result from sexual abuse,” she told the Independent.

Paulan Stärcke, a Dutch psychiatrist who carries out euthanasia at Holland’s End-of-Life facility told The Telegraph she believes psychiatrists are “too hesitant” to agree to euthanasia for psychiatric patients. Stärcke will present her findings at the Euthanasia 2016 conference in Amsterdam this week. She believes even children as young as 12 who ask to end their lives should be taken seriously. According to the The Telegraph, other speakers at the conference will discuss euthanasia for terminally ill children and people who are simply “tired of life.”

In a study published in the April 2016 issue of the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers analyzed the records of most of the cases of doctor-assisted death for psychiatric reasons in the Netherlands between 2011 and mid-2014. In 37 of the 66 cases they studied, the patient had refused recommended treatment that could have helped. Depression was the most common diagnosis, but loneliness was also a frequent theme.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to reflect that the young Dutch woman was in her 20s at the time of her death.

<p> <em class="active_element">Editor’s note: This article has been edited to reflect that the young Dutch woman was in her 20s at the time of her death.</em> </p>

Julie Borg

Julie is a clinical psychologist and writer who lives in Dayton, Ohio. She reports on science and intelligent design for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital.

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