The deadly consequences of depression

It has been reported that a woman in her 20’s, who was sexually abused as a child, was allowed to be euthanised in Netherlands last year. Statistics from the 2015 Netherlands euthanasia report indicate that from the staggering 5 561 reported euthanasia deaths in 2015, 56 were due to psychiatric reasons.

The woman died by euthanasia after doctors and psychiatrists concluded that her post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions were incurable. (Read the article here.) The woman had reportedly been suffering from mental disorders for 15 years due to sexual abuse as a child. Her condition included severe anorexia, chronic depression and suicidal mood swings, tendencies to self-harm, hallucinations, obsessions and compulsions.

Despite improvements made in her psychological condition after two years of “intensive therapy”, she was euthanised. She was euthanised although doctors in Netherlands have agreed that a psychiatric patient’s demand for death may be no more than a cry for help. Why are doctors agreeing to it then?

Her psychiatrist said “there was no prospect or hope for her. The patient experienced her suffering as unbearable”. The mere fact that a psychiatrist reports a condition as of “no prospect or hope” leaves one feeling hopeless.  A patient in such a state is vulnerable and will surely accept the specialist’s proposal. A patient with psychiatric problems who has expressed a desire to die will most probably  choose to proceed when the psychiatrist, who he/she goes to for help, deems the patient’s situation to be hopeless. In essence, the psychiatrist exclaims that there is nothing that can be done to help the patient. It is stated that two years before her death, the doctors who consented to the woman being euthanised, asked for a second opinion. The referral doctors advised that she must undergo an intensive course of trauma therapy, which proved to be successful. Despite this, the doctors went ahead with the euthanasia. It is alarming that mental health professionals deem euthanasia as a solution to the intricate damage caused by sexual abuse. Were all measures taken to help this woman, to try and save her life?

Lead researcher, Dr Scott Kim, stated, “There is no evidence base to operationalize ‘unbearable suffering,‘ there are no prospective studies of decision-making capacity in persons seeking EAS (euthanasia and assisted suicide) for psychiatric reasons, and the prognosis of patients labelled as ‘treatment-resistant depression’ varies considerably, depending on the population and the kind of treatments they receive.” This statement is concerning, as there is no objective standard by which a person’s suffering can be measured as “unbearable”.

Netherlands is one of the most advanced countries in the field of euthanasia and if the leaders in the field by no means have objective standards by which decisions are made, what will the decision-making standard in South Africa be if euthanasia is legalised?


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