In an interview with Social Conservative leader James Dobson in early February, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum ignorantly -- and falsely -- claimed that in the Netherlands euthanasia makes up ten percent of all deaths, and that forced euthanasia accounts for five percent of all deaths there. Santorum also said that people are euthanized involuntarily because they are old or sick and further claimed that elderly people in the Netherlands don't go into hospitals out of fear that they will not come out if they go in there sick -- because of "budget" reasons -- and rather go to other countries.
Having been educated and lived in the Netherlands for several years, I know that the Dutch are calm, proud, pragmatic people who like to deal in facts and reason and do not get easily excited or offended. However, Santorum's outlandish claims have provoked a storm of criticism and indignation in the Netherlands.
They have been extensively reported, fact-checked and mocked by the Dutch media.
The headline in Saturday's Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad: "Rick Santorum Thinks He Knows the Netherlands: Murder of the Elderly on a Grand Scale."
The Dutch are genuinely offended that a foreign politician would misrepresent Dutch culture and morality merely to make a political point back home.
The Dutch web site Warroom.dejaap.nl says (author's translation):
Especially Conservatives in America are of the impression that the Dutch is a crazed hippie culture, while the use of cannabis in America is twice as high as in the Netherlands and let's not even get started on crime statistics. Apparently [Americans] have a strange impression of Dutch culture and do not feel the need to investigate the facts.
Referring to Santorum, the story concludes: "This man is really imaginative. It would be a laughing matter, if he weren't in the race for the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in the race for the presidency of the most powerful country in the world."
Dutch sources estimate that legal euthanasia is the cause of what the Christian paper Nederlands Dagblad put at 3.2 percent of deaths at the most liberal estimate, and others put around 2 percent. Public statistics, which have been reported since the practice was legalized in 2002, cite 3,136 reports of euthanasia out of a total of 136,000 in the Netherlands in 2011, a bit more than 2 percent.
The Dutch were also flummoxed by Santorum's claim that Dutch elderly wear "Don't Euthanize Me" bracelets.
Other reports label Santorum a "crazy extreme Catholic" with "a surreal view of the Netherlands."
Just in the last few days has the U.S. media started to report on Santorum's incorrect comments.
The New York Times earlier this week:
Voluntary euthanasia, which has been legal since 2002, accounted for about 2 percent of deaths in the Netherlands in 2010.
As Jonathan Turley, a legal blogger, explained on Monday, the Dutch law permitting euthanasia is unambiguous about the requirement that it be voluntary, and lawmakers mandated that each case be carefully reviewed by an expert panel.
The Times further reports that:
Euthanasia not only requires consent but a waiting period. If a doctor dispatches someone without their consent or satisfying the tight controls, he is charged with murder.
The doctor must document that he or she confirmed that the patient requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide is making a voluntary and informed request. The record must also show that the patient was suffering unbearably and was fully informed about the prospects. Then a second doctor must examine the patient and supply a second written opinion on the satisfaction of the criteria.
Friday the Times reported that "A member of the Dutch Parliament expressed outrage on Thursday that the country's government has so far declined to directly contradict the Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum's false claim that forced euthanasia is legal and common in the Netherlands."
The Dutch Embassy in Washington earlier in the week, while refusing to comment, provided the Times "with information proving that Mr. Santorum was wrong to say that forced euthanasia accounts for 5 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands, and elderly people are killed in Dutch hospitals to save money. A spokeswoman for the embassy explained that the Dutch government wanted to stay out of the American presidential election."
It would be nice if American politicians stayed out of other countries' affairs and cultures and did not use misleading or false statistics solely to make political hay with their base back home.
Mr. Santorum probably believes that 99 percent of Dutch people still walk around in klompen (wooden shoes) and stick their fingers in the dikes when the North Sea threatens to flood the "Nederlanden".
Update: It turns out that Santorum made the same outlandish and false allegations about euthanasia in the Netherlands back in 2009.
The Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad has provided the video where "Santorum tells the same bizarre story about euthanasia in the Netherlands that he recently told during a campaign gathering." There is a little twist, however: In the 2009 video Santorum claims that elderly in the Netherlands carry something in their wallets that says "I do not want to be euthanized [sic]."
In his most recent invention, Santorum claims elderly in the Netherlands wear bracelets with the same plea. See the video here: