Tuesday 7 May 2013

How Cate Faehrmann misled the NSW parliament in order to promote her euthanasia bill

Cate Faehrmann (pictured) is a member of the New South Wales state parliament in Australia who earlier this week introduced a euthanasia bill.

In her speech she made the mistake of attacking a blog I had written about euthanasia in Belgium which had been reproduced on the website of LifeSite News.

She quoted from my blog in order ‘to demonstrate to members the type of tactics used to discredit voluntary assisted dying schemes in operation overseas’ and said that it was ‘a great lesson in lies, damn lies, and statistics’ ( I think she meant ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ just as she meant to say ‘Philip Nitschke’ and not ‘Philip Nietzsche’)

In order to put the record straight I have reproduced the statements she made in her speech here along with my rebuttals so that it is apparent who was really distorting the truth. The quotes from her speech are in italics.

‘The material circulated was an article headed “Stunning 4,620% increase in Belgian euthanasia cases in ten years since legislation” by Peter Saunders… As Saunders says, the number of euthanasia deaths in Belgium has increased from 24 in 2002 to 918 in 2011.  However, he has miscalculated the percentage increase.  The increase in the ten years is 918-24, which is 894.  So firstly the percentage increase is 3,725% not 4,620%.’

Faehrmann has here confused the figures. The graph in my article (reproduced above from the recent FCEE report for 2010 and 2011) has three lines, one representing euthanasia cases in Flemish-speaking Belgium, one for French-speaking Belgium and an overall total. The figures I gave were the overall total for 2002 (24) and 2011 (1,133). This is actually an increase of 4,620% as I said. Faehrmann has taken the overall total figure for 2002 (24) but the Flemish figure for 2011 (918) to derive her incorrect percentage increase of 3,725%.

Additionally, Belgian euthanasia laws weren’t passed by parliament until late September 2002, which means the 24 deaths that year were in the last 3 months. That’s why the figure is relatively low. But the following year was 235, so arguably that should be the base line number. So that’s more like a four-fold increase from 2003 to 2011.

This is a fair point but does not alter the fact that the annual figures in the Belgian report did actually increase 4,620%. However if we multiply the first 3 month figure of 24 by 4 to get 96 then the increase over ten years to 1,133 is still 1,080%. Even if we take the total for the first full year (2003) as she suggests (235) and include the figure for 2012 (1,432) then the ten year increase was 509.4%. Is she really suggesting that this level of increase is acceptable?

‘Of course, this percentage increase still seems large. But presenting the figures in this way is misleading.  It stands to reason that in the first few years after the introduction of the legislation the number of euthanasia deaths would be low since the system took some time to be understood by both the medical profession and the public.  Once it was more established annual deaths under the scheme began to increase by about 100 a year to the present level of 918, but that figure comprises only 1% of total annual deaths in Belgium according to Saunders' own source.’

Since 2007 the annual rises have been 209, 118, 131, 180 and 299 – much bigger than ‘about 100 a year’ - with each annual rise (but one) greater than the last.

‘Another way of expressing the increase in Belgium is to say that between 2002 and 2011 the percentage of deaths for euthanasia increased from 0.026% of total deaths to 1% of total deaths – hardly “opening the floodgates”!’

Or you could say that the annual number of deaths went from 235 to 1,432 per year in ten years. If this fivefold increase does not ring alarm bells with her then we do have a problem. Although she has placed the words ‘opening the floodgates’ in quote marks I didn’t actually use these words. Instead I said that ‘once euthanasia is legalised steady escalation follows along with a change in the social conscience so that it rapidly becomes accepted as normal’.  I have previously highlighted the similar escalation of euthanasia and assisted suicide cases in the NetherlandsOregon and Switzerland in recent years.

‘Saunders’ other unsupported assertion is that the FCEC is now considering “extending the right to citizens who suffer from degenerative mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s and also to children”.’

In fact this assertion was not unsupported at all. The full facts and references to the original Belgian source documents can be found here along with previously documented reports from Belgium showing that half of cases go unreported, half of Belgian euthanasia nurses have killed people without request, one third of euthanasia cases in at least one region are involuntary and that euthanasia cases are now being used as organ donors.

A report published late last year by the Brussels-based European Institute of Bioethics claimed that euthanasia was being ‘trivialized’ and that the law was being monitored by a toothless watchdog. After ten years of legalised euthanasia and about 5,500 cases, not one case had ever been referred to the police.

Cate Faehrmann may be passionate about euthanasia but it is a very serious thing for an MP to mislead parliament, especially in introducing a bill.

I am asking her to retract her accusation of ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, to issue an apology and to correct the errors and omissions in her published speech. 


  1. All your graph really shows is that more people prefer assisted dying to terminal sedation.

    You have also ignored the nonvoluntary and involuntary euthanasia that occurs in Australia now (some under the guise of terminal sedation) and which is almost never reported.

    1. The graph records reported 'voluntary' euthanasia cases in Belgium. If you have figures for involuntary and nonvoluntary euthanasia in Australia (another country altogether where euthanasia is currently illegal) then I'm sure readers would be very interested in seeing them along with your sources.

  2. I`m very glad you asked, Peter. The information has been available for over a decade. The data were collected via anonymous doctor interviews.

    I have never seen any pro-lifer bring this study up, understandably so, since it annihilates their `slippery slope` argument.

    I hope you will not be a coward this time and delete this post as you did one of my other posts, where I demonstrated that the pro-choicers would handily win any public debates on this issue.


    `Our findings suggest that while the rate of active voluntary euthanasia in Australia was slightly lower than that shown in the most recent Dutch study (1.8 percent as against 2.3 percent), the rates of non-voluntary euthanasia in Australia are significantly higher. Our study thus refutes earlier speculation that the open practice of active voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands had led to the practice of non-voluntary euthanasia. Our findings also suggest that making euthanasia illegal does not prevent doctors from practicing it.`

    Kuhse H, Singer P, Baume P, Clark M, Rickard M
    life decisions in Australian medical
    practice. Med J Aust 1997; 166: 191
    Luc Deliens, Freddy Mortier, Johan Bilsen et al.
    life decisions in medical practice in
    Belgium, Flanders. The Lancet 2000; 356: 1806
    . Comment by H. Kuhse on the la
    tter article was
    published in the Belgium journal Ethiek & Maatschappij, le trimester 2001, Jahrgang 4, Nr. 1,
    April, pp. 98
    "Euthanasia and other end
    decisions in the Netherlands in 1990, 1995, and 2001"


    The evidence is ironclad. No oversight means no accountability, which leads to more abuse. Even more so when the law is being ignored by public prosecutors.

    1. I'm familiar with Singer's work (another Australian) but this article you have quoted is 13 years old and dates from before voluntary euthanasia was actually legalised in the Netherlands in 2002.

      Also he quotes data without supporting documentation so it is not at all clear what he is classifying as non-voluntary euthanasia. Others who have used similar statistics have conflated injection euthanasia with deaths in which opiates are given or treatment withdrawn in which there was no explicit intention of ending life.

    2. It may not have been formally legal in the Netherlands, but it was de facto legal, with guidelines to guide doctors and prosecutors.

      If you have issues with the studies, please point specifically to where ambiguous and/or inaccurate definitions were used.

      The double effect doctrine is even more dangerous, since intent cannot be proven (unless death occurs in hours rather than days or weeks).

    3. Double effect is not an issue with a doctor who knows how to use morphine as there is sufficient gap between therapeutic and toxic doses.

      Yes there was incremental extension in the Netherlands before the law changed but only because of the lax prosecution criteria.

      The case for incremental extension in other countries which have not changed their laws has not been made and numbers are very low in the UK.

  3. One more thing, Peter. Let's say you get assisted dying cases brought to court. How will you get the conviction you desperately desire.

    1. I'm not looking for convictions. The current UK law is clear and right acting as a powerful deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges in hard cases. It doesn't need changing.

    2. What makes you think it's a deterrent? The only thing it guarantees is a dearth of reporting and accountability. The DPP, if he or she has any sense, will never prosecute unless the assister profits from the patient's will, because no jury in England is going to return a conviction.

      As for your "double effect" defense; it rings most hollow. What happens in practice are increasing titrations until the patient dies. There are loopholes that allow doctors and nurses to record half of the dose given. Don't believe me? Read Angels of Death by Magnusson.


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