A new type of slippery slope

Euthanasia has been legal in The Netherlands for more than 20 years. The most recent statistics report 8720 deaths annually, which is one death every hour of every day. Since its introduction, it has been expanded to the mentally ill, to children of all ages and there is a push to expand the law further to include those aged over 75 who are simply tired of life.

As if this wasn’t broad enough, there is another expansion afoot but it is being pushed from a different direction.

Earlier this year, a conference was held in Amsterdam to see if the definition of Alzheimer’s disease could be widened so that millions more people could be diagnosed with the condition, even if they are suffering no symptoms and may never develop the disease.

According to reports:

“[A] panel of industry and academic scientists took the stage to announce a plan to radically expand the definition of Alzheimer’s disease to include millions of people with no memory complaints. Those with normal cognition who test positive for elevated levels of certain proteins that have been tied to Alzheimer’s — but not proven to cause the disease — would be diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s Stage 1, the panel members explained.”

Notably, the presence of these proteins does not mean dementia or Alzheimer’s is present, only that a person has an increased risk of developing the disease.

What does that mean for euthanasia regimes, not only in The Netherlands but in other countries that have (or will) allow euthanasia for those diagnosed with dementia? Given the uncertainty of dementia’s progression, such a diagnosis could strike unnecessary fear and anxiety into those who receive this news.

There are some who question whether there are other motives for this as well. Of the panel that presented this idea, one third were employed by pharmaceutical and medical testing companies, another third are academics whose research is partly funded by those companies and an additional four outside advisors are executives in companies that make medicines for Alzheimer’s patients. The American Geriatrics Society called their presence “wholly inappropriate” and a “major flaw.”

The push to diagnose those who may never develop a terminal illness as “stage one” patients makes more money for the pharmaceutical companies, potentially saves governments health care funds by encouraging some patients to “choose” an early death, and does nothing for the patients and their families.