- The Netherlands' first ever euthanasia clinic opens and includes mobile service
- Rick Santorum claimed Dutch physicians euthanize elderly patients against their will
- Santorum also said elderly Dutch people wear bracelets reading "Do not euthanize me"
The Netherlands' first ever clinic for assisted suicide and euthanasia has opened and includes a mobile service for those who wish to die at home.
Its launch made headlines, and the clinic received 60 applications in the first two days of operation -- mostly from terminally ill patients -- but the Levenseinde Kliniek (End of Life Clinic) in Amsterdam has yet to euthanize a single patient.
"No, of course not!" exclaimed spokeswoman Walburg de Jong, laughing in shock at the notion. "It's not that you can go to the clinic and say, 'well, I want to die,' and then tomorrow someone is coming."
The U.S. presidential campaign oddly put euthanasia in the Netherlands into the news limelight in February, after Republican candidate Rick Santorum criticized it to make an argument against socialized medicine.
Santorum has made death at the hands of a Dutch family doctor sound much easier to come by than the clinic's spokeswoman or the Netherlands' health ministry.
The candidate claimed that in the Netherlands physicians euthanize elderly Dutch patients against their will to hold down medical costs.
"Half the people who are euthanized in the Netherlands -- and it's ten percent of all deaths for the Netherlands -- half of those people are euthanized involuntarily at hospitals, because they are older and sick," Santorum said at an appearance at a conservative rally in Columbia, Missouri on February 3, 2012.
Santorum's rant set off indignant reactions in the media in the Netherlands, including headlines of a Labor party politician demanding the Dutch ambassador or the country's foreign minister rebut the U.S. candidate.
"Rick Santorum thinks he knows the Netherlands: massive murder of the elderly," read a headline in the February 18 edition of the Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
Almost 140,000 people die in the Netherlands per year, according to the CIA World Factbook. The intentional ending of life with a doctor's help accounts for about 3,000 of those deaths, according to the Netherlands Ministry of Health -- percentage mathematics would land at a figure of under 2.5%, far lower than Santorum's numbers.
Santorum has also claimed that elderly people wear bracelets in the Netherlands reading "Do not euthanize me," a claim de Jong has refuted.
CNN reached out to Santorum, whose campaign is in high gear, via his press representatives to inquire into the source of the Republican candidate's statistics. As of press time, there has been no on-the-record response.
The New England Journal of Medicine has published percentages of doctor-assisted death at a patient's request in the Netherlands, and they range from 1.7% and 2.6% of all deaths in the country.
It also placed the percentage of patients dying in palliative care at 7%. Palliative and hospice care are common end-of-life treatment alternatives in many countries, including the U.S.A. Its not clear if Santorum was including palliative and hospice care when he said 10% of all deaths in the Netherlands are the result of euthanasia.
Those seeking medical help to quell their suffering by ending their lives have to take a long road to get it, according to the Dutch health ministry, and the majority of patient requests -- a full two-thirds -- are denied.
The patient must first convince his doctor that his suffering is unbearable. His ailment must be incurable.
"The criteria are that there must be a reoccurring voluntary request," clinic spokeswoman de Jong said. "There must be an unbearable and hopeless suffering, no alternatives anymore, and there must also be a second opinion doctor, who says 'yes, this doctor is fulfilling the criteria.' And then the euthanasia or assisted suicide can be done."
Sometimes the patient dies while waiting for the euthanasia to pass approval.
Under the Dutch definition, euthanasia is when a doctor administers a lethal dose of a medication to end a patient's life at the patient's request. Assisted suicide is when the doctor acquires the deadly dose for the patient, who then administers it on him- or herself.
Commonly used medications to hasten life's end are muscle relaxers and barbiturates.
Then there are the legal hurdles.
"Euthanasia is still a criminal offence," a statement on the foreign ministry website explains the Netherlands stance on the topic to the world. But doctors are exempt from prosecution, if they follow a strict set of criteria laid down by a 2002 law, the Dutch Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act.