All Americans are Fat!

First off, let me apologize for the title of this article. Of course I’m aware of the fact that not all Americans are fat, but I had to get your attention somehow, right? In this fast-paced, media-driven world, you have to use exaggerations and perhaps even lies to get your point across, right? Perhaps, but I apologize for saying something that isn’t true.

Santorum’s Euthanasia Claims

You know what else isn’t true? That in the Netherlands 5% of all deaths are cases of ‘involuntary euthanasia.’ This was just one among several staggering claims made by Rick Santorum in an interview with James Dobson at the American Heartland Forum earlier this month.

In the video [below, right] he claims that it’s common practice in the Netherlands for the elderly to wear a bracelet that says “do not euthanize me” for fear that if they were somehow admitted into a care facility (a hospital or otherwise), they might be euthanized against their will; a policy driven by a cost-benefit analysis. The former Pennsylvania senator claims that euthanasia accounts for 10% of all deaths in The Netherlands, half of which are involuntary.

Each of these claims are in all respects untrue. In reality the percentage of reported cases of euthanasia was 1.4% in 2005, according to a study of the CBS (the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics). Of course there are unreported cases (as in all countries), though anonymous studies among doctors have shown that because of legalization there are fewer and fewer unreported cases, but this percentage was, according to a study of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, still 50%. This would lead to a rough estimate that fewer than 3% of all deaths can be attributed to euthanasia.

Not to mention that there is no such thing as involuntary euthanasia. Involuntary euthanasia has only one legal equivalent in the Netherlands: murder. So to use this term is to defame euthanasia, which is always voluntary (the procedure that has to be followed in order for a doctor not to be criminally prosecuted is very strict… more on that below). Claiming that 5% of all deaths in The Netherlands can be attributed to murder equates to saying that mass murder is legal.

In fact only around 170 people are murdered each year in this country. In statistical terms this is .97 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 4.8 cases per 100,000 in the United States.

And who knows where Santorum got the bracelet idea? I couldn’t find any information on such a bracelet, anywhere. The only thing I found was that some people choose to wear a “do not resuscitate” necklace, which probably isn’t the point Santorum was trying to make.

Actual Practice

Although the Netherlands was quick to legalize a form of euthanasia (especially in light of the development of palliative care), the legal constraints are very effective. In order for a doctor not to be criminally liable, the following procedure must be adhered to (note that the doctor carries the responsibility for criminal liability, which is only logical, since he or she is the one who has to perform the act which results in the patient’s death).

First, the doctor has to be convinced that there is a voluntary and well-considered request made by the patient (in reality this usually means a written and recent request). Second, the doctor has to be convinced that the patient is suffering hopelessly and unbearably. Third, the doctor has to inform the patient of his or her current situation, and fourth, the patient and the doctor have to come to the conclusion that there is no reasonable alternative. Fifth, a second independent physician has to be consulted. This doctor has to provide written documentation that steps one through four have been followed carefully. Sixth, the final act of euthanasia or assisted suicide has to be performed in a medically responsible way.

I know, a long and boring list of criteria. But, astonishingly, it needs be stressed that there is no common practice in The Netherlands of mass-murdering the elderly.

Why Santorum Couldn’t Possibly Be a Serious Presidential Candidate

Going back to the title of this piece: Santorum used an erroneous, but dominant, perception that the Dutch are a pot-smoking, baby-aborting, and, now, an elderly-killing people, and he used it to promote his own agenda. A false, but oft-heard stereotype of US citizens is that they are all fat. I, willfully, used this stereotype to further my own agenda. Again, I apologize, because I think it is wrong to do so.

Someone who is aiming for the highest office in the United States, as Santorum is, should be held to a high moral standard, as the strong historical and current socioeconomic ties between The Netherlands and the United States should be held in high standing.

All this leads me to the following conclusion: a man who uses such blatant false claims in order to promote his own agenda is either very devious or shockingly ignorant. Neither trait, I presume, is admirable in a presidential candidate.

visser_j@live.nl'

Rev. Jan Visser is a minister in the Protestant Church in The Netherlands. He has a master’s degree in theology and applied ethics.