Since the groundbreaking legalization of medically assisted death in the Netherlands in 2002, the West has seen a shocking rise in people, including those without physical illness, opting for euthanasia.
According to the Daily Mail, Canada, which has the world’s most liberal assisted suicide program, is on track to record a 34% increase since 2021, for a total of 13,500 deaths in 2022. In comparison, nearly 60,000 people have chosen medically assisted suicide in the Netherlands since 2012.
Although the procedure’s initial aim was to help individuals suffering from a terminal illness die with dignity, a new study of Dutch euthanasia cases conducted by Kingston University shows that at least 40 people with autism were legally euthanized in the Netherlands between 2012 and 2021. The findings have raised concerns from critics that the procedure is too easily accessible.
Kasper Raus, a researcher at Universiteit Gent in Belgium, told the New York Post that the “types of patients seeking out physician-assisted suicide have changed greatly over the past two decades,” adding that the debate used to focus on patients with cancer or those suffering from an incurable illness, not autism.
The study, which focused on data from 900 out of the 60,000 people who died by euthanasia since 2012 in the Netherlands, found that 39 of them had autism, and 18 of them were under the age of 50.
Although many autistic people cited their main reason behind getting the procedure was because of “mental, physical, or age-related ailments,” several patients said the sole cause of their suffering was related to an intellectual disability which caused social isolation, an inability to cope, a difficulty adjusting to change, and/or an oversensitivity to stimuli.
This news comes at the heels of a controversial case in Canada, where a 33-year-old paraplegic woman and single mother of three announced she had applied for assisted suicide because it was “easier to access than the support services” she needed.
Speaking to CBC, Rose Finlay of Bowmanville, Ontario, said that a representative at the Ontario Disability Support Program told her getting approved for disability takes six to eight months. In contrast, the approval period for MAID only takes three months, according to a Government of Canada website. Finlay has has been bedridden for the past year.
“That tells me that our government is not prioritizing the lives of disabled people and that it is easier to let disabled people go than it is to actually give them the assistance that they need,” Finlay said.
Explaining she applied for MAID in March, Finlay adds, “It’s not what I want … But if I don’t receive the support that I need, the outcome is the same. If I get to a point where I am really sick and basically terminally ill anyways, I would like to have other options.”
Australia is facing similar backlash for proposing new legislation that could allow minors as young as 14 to die by medically assisted suicide, the Daily Mail notes.
Tara Cheyne, the Human Rights Minister in Australia’s capital of Canberra, claimed that “children should have the same choices as adults in how they end their life,” adding that “young people under the age of 18 can also experience intolerable end-of-life suffering through terminal illnesses.”
Since the legalization of euthanasia in multiple western nations, critics have weighed in on the lack of safeguards that make accessing it too easy. Matt Vallière, director of the Patients’ Rights Action Fund in the United States, fears the extension of MAID laws has paved the way for vulnerable people to opt for death because “medical suicide [becomes] the lesser of the healthcare evils” which they have access.
“Every expansion of assisted suicide and euthanasia simply adds additional subsets of people with disabilities to the group of those who qualify or makes it easier, quicker, or cheaper for them to get it,” he told the Daily Mail.
Currently, euthanasia, a lethal injection administered by a doctor or nurse, is legal in seven countries, including Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and some states in Australia.