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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Dutch legalize euthanasia

With a 46-28 senate vote, the Netherlands became the first nation in which a terminally ill patient can choose to die. Although it's been 30 years since a doctor has been prosecuted for assisting suicide, euthanasia remained illegal until the April decision. Before legalization, 5,000 Dutch people were euthanized annually.

Some fear the new legislation will make the Netherlands a destination for "suicide tourism" or that ill people will feel pressured to choose death.

Oregon is the only state with legal euthanasia. Norene Goplen, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Oregon, says the Dutch health-care system offers supportive end-of-life care, extensive hospice programs, close doctor-patient relationships, and better funding for health care, which distinguishes it from that in the United States.

A report in The Oregonian says 27 people in that state chose to undergo euthanasia in 2000, the same number as in 1999.

Goplen says that in Oregon,"most voters saw their vote as being cast on behalf of people who suffer terrible pain at the end of their life and because of that pain wanted to provide some relief for them.

"What we see in those people who have utilized the service since is that their concern was more a loss of dignity, not excruciating pain. Most of them did not suffer appreciable pain at all. They also dreaded the loss of bodily functions, diminished capacity and lifestyle. That raises a very different question: Should society condone physician-assisted suicide for these reasons?"

The ELCA statement on end-of-life decisions is available at www.elca.org/dcs/endoflife.html


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