Dutch euthanasia and the US Republican nomination race

The Republican nomination race has provided an excellent example of the need for more cross-cultural awareness about healthcare. On February 3, Republican Rick Santorum discussed euthanasia in the Netherlands during a speech in Montana. His understanding of the facts, is however, somewhat shaky. In relation to euthanasia, he stated “…elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital, they go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, that they will not come out of that hospital if they go in with sickness.”

Mortality-Commonwealth-FundNow, it may be true that many people are scared of going to the hospital. And some of these fears may be valid. In Dutch hospitals however, involuntary euthanasia is not one of them.

The issue has been making national news headlines today in Holland, and during question period there were demands that the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs officially respond to Santorum’s statements.

Euthanasia represents only 2.3% of all deaths in the Netherlands, not 10% as Mr. Santorum claimed. And no one has been euthanized involuntarily, in contrast to the 50% rate quoted by Mr. Santorum. Euthanasia in the Netherlands is only performed for patients experiencing intractable suffering. And even then, only after a strict process of patient consent, the agreement of at least two physicians and approval from a regional commission. (Dutch Euthanasia Society)

Apparently it’s not only Canadian-style “Death Panels” that are striking fear into the hearts of Americans! On the other hand if I was American I might be worried about having one of the highest rates of potentially preventable mortality in the OECD.