By Patrick B. Craine

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, December 2, 2009 ( – The former Dutch minister who successfully promoted the legalization of euthanasia has now admitted that the government’s move was a mistake, and says that they should have first focused on palliative care.

Els Borst, who served as Health Minister for the Netherlands from 1994 to 2002, proposed the country’s infamous euthanasia bill. When it passed in 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia. In 2008, Dutch doctors reported 2,331 cases of euthanasia, 400 cases of assisted suicide, and 550 deaths without request.

Borst drew criticism from some Christian political parties shortly after the passage of her bill for comments she made in an interview. Echoing the Christ’s final words on the Cross, Borst exclaimed: “It is finished!”

Now, however, she thinks the government acted too soon, as she told Dr. Anne-Mei The in interviews for the latter’s new book on the history of euthanasia, entitled Verlossers naast God (“Redeemer under God”).

The legalization of euthanasia came “far too early,” Borst said, admitting that the government did not give enough attention to palliative care and support for the dying. “In the Netherlands, we first listened to the political and societal demand in favour of euthanasia,” she said. “Obviously, this was not in the proper order.”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, agrees with Borst that the Netherlands has been ineffective in providing proper palliative care. “Even today they still do not have effective palliative care in place in the Netherlands,” he told (LSN).

“It’s all good to say that,” he said, referring to Borst’s comments, “but what are they doing now to protect the vulnerable?”

“Now [euthanasia’s] become socially accepted,” he continued. “So how are you going to fix your mistake now, thank you? And how many thousands of people died because you didn’t properly care for them? How many thousands killed?”

Dr. The, who has studied euthanasia for fifteen years, affirmed that the foreign perception of inadequate palliative care in the Netherlands is not unfounded. Further, she explained that in all her years, nearly
all the doctors she has met struggle with euthanasia due to moral issues or emotional reactions.

Borst’s regret over the situation in the Netherlands is particularly important given that that country has served as a model for euthanasia advocates in other countries. Schadenberg noted, for example, that Canadian MP Francine Lalonde, who currently has a bill before Parliament to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, has “imported” the Netherlands’ approach into Canada.

As in the Netherlands, Schadenberg explained, Canada “lack[s] the proper care for those either a) at the end of life, or b) experiencing disability or chronic disabling conditions.”

“Without the proper care in place, is [legalizing euthanasia] not the wrong thing to be doing?” he asked. “Really what the debate in Canada needs to be about is how we care for all Canadians.”

Schadenberg went on to point out the “slippery slope” occurring in the Netherlands, which the country’s politicians deny, he says, through “a systematic cover-up.” “How can you say there is no slippery slope in the Netherlands – knowing that you now allow euthanasia for newborns, and you went from originally just the terminally ill, [and] now it’s also for those who are mentally ill?” he asked. “You have allowed your definitions to wander so wide that you haven’t even noticed it.”

Borst’s comments, Schadenberg says, are “simply telling us: do not make the same error as the Netherlands.”