A Personal Story of Death by Dehydration in the United States

Note from Alex Schadenberg, Exec. Dir. of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition:

Yesterday the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition received this email from a woman who had contacted us through the internet. She wrote us concerning the dehydration death of her husband and how his death was an abuse of the use of morphine and palliative care. Sadly these stories are not uncommon.

She suggested that legalizing euthanasia would put it “under a microscope” making euthanasia by dehydration harder to disguise. I responded by showing her, through research studies from Belgium and the Netherlands, that in fact the opposite is true. When euthanasia is legalized, all forms of assisted death, including intentional dehydration, increase. Her letter is followed by my response.


Letter from a family member:


I can tell you that euthanasia (in the US) is what now passes for “hospice care.” My husband was a terminal colon cancer patient. I admit that he would not have lived much longer (perhaps weeks or months) as he had gone from a healthy 224 lbs to 130 lbs and had many complications. However, he was not ready to die, was still getting up every day and enjoying family and friends and still able to for the most part care for himself. He needed frequent medical intervention as he had bi-lateral nephrostomies. The medical institutions basically told him they were not going to fix anything anymore and that the only thing they would do is let him check into a hospice room at the hospital to die.

He got there and they asked him if he was in pain. He replied, “no” but they still said, well, we will make you comfortable. By this they meant putting him on a sedating morphine drip with no fluids, no food and no consciousness. They increased the morphine every time he seemed to be in distress — but, he had no pain so where was the distress coming from? Dehydration? Other things caused by the very thing that was supposed to make him comfortable? It was torturous and heartbreaking to watch. I didn’t know enough then to protest — but, looking back, I know of a certainty that they intended to slowly ease him out of life. It took four days. That’s how strong his body still was.

We are not far from a much broader use of these means for ending lives and I think it actually occurs very much more frequently than we would like to think, particularly with the elderly. And, honestly, I think not legalizing euthanasia allows it to hide itself and allows for a much broader and unregulated use of practices that essentially are purposeful killing. Legal euthanasia is under a microscope — not much better, but at least it is harder for it to disguise itself.

Signed: ________________


Response from Alex Schadenberg

Dear __________:
I am very sorry to read how your husband died. Whether he would have lived a long time or a short time, they had no right to kill him, and kill him is what they did.

You mention in your letter that legalizing euthanasia would put it “under a microscope” and make it harder to disguise the abuse that caused the premature death of your husband. In other jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, deaths by dehydration have not stopped and in fact have substantially increased. Studies from Belgium and the Netherlands prove that deaths by Deep Continuous Sedation, have increased after euthanasia was legalized. Deep Continuous Sedation is done by sedating a person and then withdrawing fluids and food. Deep Continuous Sedation or Terminal Sedation must be differentiated from Palliative Sedation which is done to kill pain and not patients.*

In Belgium euthanasia was legalized in 2002. An article entitled, “Medical End-of-Life Practices under the Euthanasia Law in Belgium” that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Sept 10, 2009) found that, after legalization, the rate of euthanasia increased, the rate of euthanasia without explicit request decreased but remained very high (1.8% of all deaths), and the rate of people who died by Continuous and Deep Continuous Sedation increased from 8.2% of all deaths in 2001 to 14.5% of all deaths in 2007.

The article concluded: “We found that the enactment of the Belgium euthanasia law was followed by an increase in all types of medical end-of-life practices, with the exception of the use of lethal drugs without the patient’s explicit request.”

A further examination of the facts indicates that in Belgium, 32% of all euthanasia deaths are done without explicit request. This statistic was determined by a study entitled, “Physician-assisted deaths under the euthanasia law in Belgium,” a population-based survey, that was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (June 15, 2010). Even though the number of euthanasia deaths without explicit request decreased, and even though these euthanasia deaths did not follow the legal requirements for euthanasia, the number of these deaths remained “out-of-control” after legalizing euthanasia in Belgium.

In the Netherlands euthanasia was officially legalized in 2001. When examining the statistics in the Netherlands, the recent study that was published (July 11, 2012) in the Lancet entitled, “Trends in end-of-life practices before and after the enactment of the euthanasia law in the Netherlands from 1990 to 2010,” a repeated cross-sectional survey, found that deaths by Deep Continuous Sedation increased from 5.6% of all deaths in 2001 to 8.2% of all deaths in 2005 to 12.3% of all deaths in 2010. Deaths by euthanasia without request have decreased but in 2005 there were still 550 deaths without explicit request and in 2010 there were still 310 deaths without explicit request.

You suggested that once euthanasia is legal it would be “under the microscope.” A study that was published in the British Medical Journal (November 2010) entitled, “Reporting of euthanasia in medical practice in Flanders, Belgium,” a cross sectional analysis of reported and unreported cases, found that 47.2% of the euthanasia deaths were unreported. The recent study that was published in the Lancet concerning end-of-life practices in the Netherlands found that 23% of the euthanasia deaths were unreported. The practice of euthanasia is not “under the microscope.”

The theory that legalizing euthanasia will lead to greater control and fewer abuses is not true. The studies from jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized indicate that the opposite is true.
Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

* There are many terms being used for sedation in the end-of-life setting. What is most important to know is that sedation is often misused with the intent to cause death, while the pretense is made that relieving pain is the goal. Such inappropriate sedation actually does cause death. Sedation must only be used when it is absolutely clinically necessary.

Authentic “terminal sedation” is properly used to relieve “terminal agitation” or “restlessness” at the end of life and is used properly in a minority of patients.

“Deep continuous sedation” or “permanent sedation” are properly used when pain is so extreme and absolutely no other means are helpful. The patient is sedated and thought to be better relieved of their pain than otherwise. Some studies question this.

Authentic “palliative sedation” is used to relieve pain. “Comfort sedation” is also supposed to be used for the same purpose.

These terms are unfortunately sometimes used interchangeably and inconsistently.

For more information about the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Belgium and the Netherlands, order the book: Exposing Vulnerable People to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. – Alex Schadenberg

For more information about the state of hospice and palliative care, and the changes to the industry today, see Stealth Euthanasia: Health Care Tyranny in America (Hospice, Palliative Care & Health Care Reform). Also see the Hospice Patients Alliance website which has much information about all aspects of hospice & palliative care. – Ron Panzer

While there are increasing numbers of people having similar experiences in hospice, not all hospices are practicing euthanasia. That being said, it is becoming more and more prevalent. The Pro-life Healthcare Alliance is seeking to renew reverence for life within the healthcare setting and in society as a whole, and to create new pro-life hospices and facilities where patients are safe. For more information about creating new pro-life hospices and other healthcare facilities, contact us at Pro-life Healthcare Alliance.

For assistance in these types of situations, or for information about creating new pro-life hospices and other healthcare facilities, to volunteer, or to bring a conference to your area, contact us at Pro-life Healthcare Alliance.