- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

The Netherlands euthanasia law explained

Three recent articles in The Washington Times a Commentary column by Maggie Gallagher, one by Cal Thomas and an editorial presented a distorted view of the euthanasia law recently passed in the Netherlands and may have misled your readers ("Dutch death," April 14, "At deaths door with dread," April 17, "Prescription for death," April 22).
In spite of continued progress in palliative care, euthanasia is a regular, albeit hidden, occurrence in many countries, where doctors and patients are trying to find their way in extremely difficult situations without any guidelines, regulations or possibility for open discussion.
In the Netherlands, we value open and frank discussions of complex and often difficult social issues such as euthanasia. The law that parliament has just passed is the result of almost 30 years of such discussion. A recent poll conducted in the Netherlands indicates that 85 percent of the population supports this new legislation.
In this new law, euthanasia is treated as a criminal offense unless it is carried out by a physician and administered in compliance with the following requirements of due care:
The physician must be convinced that the patient has made a voluntary, persistent and carefully considered request to die.
The physician must be convinced that the patients suffering is unbearable and that there is no prospect of improvement of the patients situation.
The physician has informed the patient about his or her medical situation and medical prospects.
The physician, together with the patient, must be convinced that there is no reasonable alternative.
The physician has consulted at least one other physician with an independent viewpoint who must have seen the patient and given a written opinion on the due-care criteria referred to above.
The physician must have assisted the patient to die with due medical care and attention.
A review board comprising a physician, a lawyer and an ethicist will determine whether each case was in compliance with the strict requirements. If it was not, the case is referred to the public prosecutor for legal investigation based on the allegation of murder.
To fully understand this issue, it is important to comprehend the social context and health care environment in the Netherlands. Everyone in the Netherlands has health insurance. Advanced health care, including palliative care, is available to everyone. Personal financial difficulties related to terminal illness, which often exist in other countries, are nonexistent in the Netherlands, so medical treatment costs play no role in the consideration of a euthanasia request.
Most Dutch have long-standing relationships with their doctors. General practitioners still make house calls and have an intimate knowledge of their patients medical histories and needs. As such, the doctor is able to consider carefully all treatment options with the patient and his or her family. Patient care is the doctors primary responsibility not adherence to a hospitals or bureaucrats profit-loss ledger.
Further information on the law may be obtained at www.netherlands-embassy.org.

JORIS VOS
Ambassador
Embassy of the Netherlands
Washington

Kerrey and partial-birth abortion vote

I agree with Tony Snows Commentary column, which points out the unwillingness of "pro-choice" advocates to call a baby a baby even to protect pregnant women from abuse ("Threads of life entwined," April 30).
But I would like to point out that Mr. Snows suggestion that former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey is on the right side of the life issue needs some qualification. When Mr. Kerrey had a chance to vote in the Senate against partial-birth abortion, he came back to Nebraska, very publicly agonized over the difficulty of the choice, returned to Washington and joined his liberal colleagues in voting against any restrictions.

MICHAEL SUNDERMEIER
Omaha, Neb.

Another first for Russian space program

As an enthusiast of space history, I am amazed at Russias latest "first." While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration did everything it could to derail California millionaire Dennis Titos adventure, he was welcomed with open arms at the Baikonur Cosmodrome after paying $20 million.
Although riding a rocket to the international space station is nothing I would care to do, I admire the Russians for achieving yet another space milestone. Sputnik 1 was the first satellite to orbit Earth, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, and cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space years before U.S. astronaut Sally Ride. The Soviet Union also brought back the first images from the hitherto unseen far side of the moon.
Under no circumstances do I dismiss our countrys monumental and miraculous achievements, but the Russians deserve credit for their role at the cutting edge of space exploration.
Now that space tourism may become a reality, perhaps NASA should work to create safe, restricted facilities for tourists to accompany U.S. missions. In that way, millionaires can travel safely into orbit, thus gaining cocktail-party bragging rights, and the aerospace industry can earn needed funds.

ROSALIND ELLIS
Baltimore

History has seen deadlier diseases than AIDS

I read your April 23 editorial "Africa under siege" with some consternation. You assert that "more people have died from AIDS over the past 20 years than from any other disease in human history," approximately 21.8 million. AIDS is horrible, without a doubt, and probably is the current No. 1 killer. The Washington Times, however, should strive for complete accuracy, and your assertion that AIDS has killed more people than any other disease in history is just plain wrong. Consider the following:
The plague, a collection of closely related diseases, claimed approximately 130 million lives over several centuries, but probably no more than 2 million lives in any one year. It was particularly virulent in the sixth, 14th and 17th centuries, and it is estimated that 35 million people died in China from the plague in the 14th century alone.
Smallpox, according to conservative estimates, caused 20 million deaths in the New World (deaths in Mexico are often put at more than 20 million), plus 10 million in Europe and a like number in Africa. Asian deaths arent easy to estimate. All told, however, 40 million deaths in Asia from smallpox is probably a conservative figure.
Spanish influenza, a pandemic that started in 1918, claimed 20 million to 40 million lives; the best estimates are more than 25 million deaths in a little more than one year. Recent studies confirm that this flu is continuing to drift (slowly evolve) and reappears from time to time but hasnt been nearly as severe as it was in 1918-19.
There are, perhaps, more diseases that are now lesser known, at least to me, that have killed more people than AIDS. Though the point of your article does not hinge on your contention that AIDS is the most deadly disease in history, your lack of accuracy nonetheless undermines your presentation of the facts.

DWIGHT DIVINE
Rockville


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