Rick Santorum riles the Dutch

February 25, 2012

Amsterdam's Sint Lucas Andreas Ziekenhuis. Source: Wikipedia

Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, who has been known to garner a fair bit of criticism from liberals, pro-choice groups and moderates, has now apparently riled the otherwise docile Dutch citizenry.

I had several occasions to visit the Sint Lucas Andreas Ziekenhuis hospital in the western part of Amsterdam while I attended graduate school at the Universiteit van Amsterdam in 2008.

I found the hospital to be exceptionally well run and very efficient. They offered the usual amenities, a fully stocked café, and other niceties that one would find at a typical Dutch hospital.

I was perplexed after listening to excerpts of Rick Santorum’s appearance at the American Heartland Forum with James Dobson, a leading American evangelical leader, where Santorum claimed that the Dutch practice involuntary euthanasia.

During two of my visits to the Sint Lucas Andreas Ziekenhuis I had the misfortune of getting lost within the hospital and wandered about before I found an exit. During my strolls through the hospital’s hallways, I did not make note of the euthanasia clinics.

Maybe they might have been hidden in the basement per a horror movie plot.

But I digress, back to Rick Santorum.

In particular, during his appearance with James Dobson, Mr. Santorum had this to say, “They have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands, but half the people who are euthanized every year, and it’s 10 percent of all deaths, half of those people are euthanized involuntarily in hospitals, because they are older and sick.”

“So elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country. Because they’re afraid because of budget purposes they will not come out of that hospital if they go in with sickness,” Santorum said.

Mr. Santorum went on to suggest, that much like rock concerts and wearing bracelets if you’re old enough to drink a beer, elderly Dutch patients wear bracelets with the words, “Don’t euthanize me.”

The overriding question than is where did Rick Santorum get his data or rather his incorrect data about euthanasia in the Netherlands?

A recent article by The Boston Globe states, “Most likely, Santorum’s data came from a summary of a 1991 government report referred to as the Remmelink report. That report found that in 1990, 9.1 percent of deaths in Holland were caused intentionally by doctors, according to a widely-distributed summary by the Patients Rights Council, an Ohio-based organization that opposes euthanasia…Of those, the majority were involuntary, meaning they were done without the patient’s knowledge or consent. But other medical studies from 1990 found that euthanasia accounted for around 2 percent of deaths in Holland.”

Further, while Santorum specifically cited that only the elderly are euthanized in Dutch hospitals, 38 percent of all patients who are euthanized are under the age of 65. Importantly, physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands is a recent practice having been made legal in 2002.

A 2007 study by The New England Journal of Medicine found, “The Dutch Euthanasia Act was followed by a modest decrease in the rates of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The decrease may have resulted from the increased application of other end-of-life care interventions, such as palliative sedation.”

As one would expect, the Dutch who are well known for their Red Light District in Amsterdam, somewhat liberal drug laws, umpteenth canals, picturesque dams and dykes to stave off flooding from the North Sea and snowmelts in Germany, and the Anne Frank House, were noticeably perturbed by Rick Santorum’s comments about euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Perhaps hoping that Santorum would be hoisted by his own petard, the government has thus far refrained from wading into the controversy. This silence on the part of the government has been noticeable and Frans Timmermans, a member of the Dutch Parliament, has insisted that Foreign Minister, Uri Rosenthal, publicly denounce Mr. Santorum and his suggestions.

Frans Timmermans posted the following statement on his Facebook page: “The ambassador gave ‘no comment’ on Santorum’s scandalous accusations aimed at our country. How is that possible?” Upon noting that Mr. Rosenthal should make a statement in public, Mr. Timmermans concluded, “This cannot be allowed to rest.”

For its part, the government, through the Dutch Embassy in Washington, DC has released an assortment of facts disproving Santorum’s claims.

The fact that Mr. Santorum made the comments in a conservative setting like the American Heartland Forum should come as no surprise to those following the Republican primaries. Mr. Santorum has seen his lead slip in Michigan and the Republican Party’s presumed front-runner, Mitt Romney, has widened his lead in Arizona ahead of the primaries in both states next Tuesday.

Santorum is widely viewed as the standard bearer for social conservatives. He has made it his practice to make controversial statements both while serving as a U.S. Senator and since a pro-life Democrat defeated him in 2006.

While the uproar over Santorum’s statement will unlikely affect U.S.-Dutch relations on any noticeable level, this episode is likely to cause Santorum and his surrogates a headache as they try to back up claims that a modern European country kills 5 percent of its citizens because its cheaper than treating them.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,