Learning from Deadly Dutch Mistakes

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/07/13 at 12:00 AM

The Netherlands has earned a dubious distinction in recent years as one of the suicide capitals of the world.Euthanasia of adults and teenagers has been legal there since 2002 and the Dutch Royal Medical Association recently made international headlines by persuading the Dutch government to establish a committee to regulate infant euthanasia. Not that doctors there needed the government’s blessing to practice their healing arts: By their own accounting, Dutch physicians had already been euthanizing about 15 sick babies each year.(See: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/campbell200603130818.asp)

Euthanasia advocates hail the Dutch model as progressive and reasonable, offering a humane escape from this fallen world for everyone from terminally ill cancer patients to depressed adolescents and sickly infants. If they want to die (or, in the case of newborns, if their parents wish they had never been born), who has the right to stop them?

Given that logic which must be widely accepted in the Netherlands if politicians and physicians could sanction the killing of children with impunity the reaction of Dutch authorities to a recent outbreak of teen suicide fever is a bit puzzling. A few days ago, news reports (http://in.news.yahoo.com/060820/43/66t2a.html) surfaced about a group of a dozen 12- to 15-year-old Dutch girls who were using text messages on their cell phones and taunting e-mails to urge each other on to suicide, peppering friends with messages like “Who dares to?” One student finally grew frightened enough to contact authorities. An army of police, physicians, and social workers soon pounced on the case and did their best to unravel the reasons behind the suicide craze. Experts speculated in the press about the pernicious power of peer pressure, the insidious influence of the Internet, and the bizarre teenage impression that suicide is glamorous. As one Dutch psychiatrist mused to a reporter, suicide seems to carry a certain degree of prestige among teenagers but, We don’t know why.

The good doctor, like his colleagues, did not seem to grasp the obvious: The law is a teacher and Dutch law has taught its young citizens well.The radical and sweeping embrace of suicide as an answer to the problem of human suffering, and the elevation of euthanasia to the status of a basic human right, has convinced Dutch teenagers that suicide must be a noble act, the kind that wins plaudits, prestige, and even legal protection.

Adults can preach all they want about the evils of suicide to their teenage charges, but when asked why suicide is wrong for some people in some situations while fine for others, supporters of Dutch euthanasia laws will be hard pressed to offer an answer that passes muster with any reasonably intelligent 12-year-old. So Dutch children will continue to see suicide as a reasonable, even admirable solution to the difficulties of daily life. And the culture of death in the Netherlands will march on. The question is: Will we learn from their mistakes?

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH  Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television host and St. Louis-basedfellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is

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