Patients sometimes refuse morphine, fearing that doctors will kill them.
Dr Maria van den Muijsenbergh
Dutch doctors who are accustomed to offering sick patients the option of euthanasia find it difficult to cope with immigrants with very different belief systems. Writing in the magazine of the Dutch right-to-die association, Relevant, general practitioner Maria van den Muijsenbergh says that many of the Netherlands’s numerous immigrants are more tolerant of pain because they offer their lives to God and that they believe that euthanasia is wicked.
She says in an interview:
‘The Netherlands is a country with liberal opinions about euthanasia and a country where it is not taken for granted to be religious. Nearly all non-western migrants are religious. Not only Muslims but also orthodox–Christian Armenians and others coming from Africa. On the deathbed religion plays a major role. God or Allah decides when you have to go. Euthanasia is therefore wicked. The problem with migrants is they do not even want palliative sedation. For a Dutch doctor that can be difficult’
[I had a Muslim patient] who wanted to stay lucid for Allah. I gave him a little morphine but that did not work. He stayed tight in the chest [breathless]. It was very hard to look at for the children and for me. And very hard to do nothing. The man took it very well though. As doctor you have to ask yourself is it [hard] for the patient or for me?’
Terminal sedation, or rendering patients unconscious while they starve to death, is a common alternative to euthanasia with a needle. However, immigrants don’t want this either. “God has given you this body and you have to look after it” is the thought behind. So they will not stop eating or drinking. “And that is difficult to a doctor,” she says.
She remembered one Armenian patient: “He could not swallow his food and could hardly drink. His family wanted me to insert a drip. The patient wanted it also. For me it was hard, in my eyes inserting a drip in a dying person is not good care. But the role of the family is big.”
Does the existence of euthanasia actually make the last days of immigrants more difficult? Dr van den Muijsenbergh says that “Patients often refuse morphine because they think the doctor may kill them then.”
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