Analysis

Netherlands euthanasia center complains of long wait times, lack of doctors to euthanize mentally ill

assisted suicide, depression, suicide, pandemic, coronavirus

Psychiatrist Paulan Stärcke of the Euthanasia Expertise Center in the Netherlands recently complained of the long wait times for mentally ill patients to be killed. In an interview with Dutch newspaper Trouw, Stärcke said the waiting period for euthanasia for psychiatric patients is currently two years, due to a lack of doctors willing to make referrals for their patients to die.

Last year, the waiting period for euthanasia due to mental illness was one year, but the wait time has grown as requests have seemingly increased. “[O]ur waiting list is mainly a signal that regular mental health care still does not often seriously respond to a request for euthanasia,” Stärcke told Trouwe. “We are referred to too often.” Psychiatrists within the Euthanasia Expertise Center, formerly the End of Life Clinic, euthanized 60 patients last year, while doctors not affiliated with the center euthanized six.

For Stärcke, who believes doctors outside of the center should be willing to do the job themselves, this presents a problem.

“We have to start from scratch with establishing a relationship,” she said. “The own practitioner already has that relationship.” And further complicating issues is that, according to Stärcke, psychiatrists outside of the center find it too “complex” to assess euthanasia for mentally ill patients. Seven psychiatrists currently work for the center, but though Stärcke says more are needed, Trouw reported that efforts to recruit more doctors to work for the center so far have been unsuccessful.

READ: Euthanasia expert in the Netherlands expects deaths to double in a decade

It was recently revealed that euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands have been steadily rising, with Steven Pleiter, chairman of the Euthanasia Expertise Center, predicting that these deaths will double in the next decade. As it currently stands, a quarter of all deaths are induced. Euthanasia for mental illness is likewise on the rise, with one mental health patient killed each week. People have been euthanized for things like autism, addiction, depression, and for suffering from sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, a study from several years ago found that 1 in 3 Dutch doctors were willing to euthanize someone solely due to mental illness. As horrifying as that statistic is, the silver lining — as evidenced by the Euthanasia Expertise Center’s difficulty in hiring more psychiatrists — is that the majority of doctors are not willing to euthanize patients, even if they otherwise support euthanasia. And with a two-year wait, one can only hope that during the delay, despite Stärcke’s pleas for more euthanasia, some of these patients will get the help they need and realize their lives are still worth living.

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