Some recent news items recall the tip of the iceberg analogy, the presence under the surface of something large and dangerous that may suddenly emerge in full view.
Picture the scene: a doctor gives a lethal injection to an elderly confused woman who is struggling to fight it off, but is being held down by her family.
Horror story from a novel or film? History? From a land under a savage dictatorship?
In the Netherlands, where rampant euthanasia and assisted suicide usually go unchecked, this case was sent to the Regional Review Committee, which though asking for more judicial clarity on the subject, said she had acted in good faith.
The woman, who was over 80 and had dementia, had apparently earlier requested to be euthanized when “the time was right”, but more recently said she wanted to go on living.
Her doctor, however, put a sedative in the patient’s coffee, and although she struggled, administered a lethal injection while family members held her down.
How often does this happen? An earlier case was reported where an elderly woman with dementia had clearly said she wished to be euthanised when she lost her mind, but physically resisted when her husband called a doctor to carry this out. The doctor stopped, but later the husband insisted, and the doctor returned and ended her life. There was some doubt about whether she resisted the second time. The discussion of that case in the Dutch media showed how drastically their laws have eroded public views on killing helpless people.
Another factor that is increasingly coming into view is that it is much cheaper to kill the ill, disabled and elderly than to care for them. A recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal talks about a saving of millions of dollars for the country. See http://www.cmaj.ca/content/189/3/E101.abstract
Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister has said that old people should “hurry up and die” to unburden the nation’s medical-care system. Similar attitudes towards those who are considered no longer productive have been openly expressed by several politicians and doctors.
So far our own legislature has seen the dangers of relaxing the law. We must continue resisting continual attempts to do this, whether by changing statute law or in other ways.