Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Confused World of Rick Santorum

by George Hope

“In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if you are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘do not euthanise me’, because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands. But half the people who are euthanised every year – and it’s 10% of all deaths in the Netherlands – half of those people are euthanised involuntarily at hospitals, because they are older and sick.” These are the exact words of Rick Santorum, a Senator who wants to become the next President of the USA.
I couldn't help but laugh a little when I read a comment on The Wall Street Journal Online: "Let's go in and defend these old people. Rick, lead the way." The person was responding to an article entitled, "Dutch to Santorum: Pull the Plug on Euthanasia Tlk". The Government of the Netherlands responded to Republican candidate Rick Santorum after he spoke out about Dutch health and social policies, with particular reference to euthanasia. The Republican hopeful said, “Elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country because they’re afraid, because of budget purposes, they won’t come out of that hospital." What business is it of Rick Santorum, and more importantly of what relevance is it, to bring up another nation's health policies and criticise them with complete fabrications unsupported by any evidence? I thought he was running for President of the US, not President of the World.
Erik Mouthaan, US correspondent for the Dutch RTL News, joined journalist Rachel Maddow to clarify the truth of Santorum’s accusations. He described them as being ‘untrue and insulting’. He went on to say, ‘We know that some people are against our liberal policies, and that’s fine. But the problem is if they just start lying. This is such a distortion of what actually goes on and I think people are quite upset about it.’ So let’s get some facts straight. Santorum said that 10% of deaths in the Netherlands are from euthanasia. In fact, the number is at about 1.2%. He also said that half don’t even want to die. The Dutch Government has put in place strict laws with severe punishments should a person’s ‘right to die’ be abused. There are, in reality, many safeguards preventing this from happening. Whatever your view on euthanasia, on a scale of Dutch to Santorum, it is undeniably worrying that someone who could hold an office as important as President of the United States could lie so blatantly and get away with it.
Importantly, there is a common agreement in the Netherlands on what the term 'euthanasia' actually means. According to the State Commission on Euthanasia in 1985 it is 'the deliberate action to terminate life, by someone other than, and on request of, the patient concerned.' The term 'passive' euthanasia no longer exists; rather, the term euthanasia encompasses the ideas of being both active and voluntary.

Moving on from euthanasia, all the facts seem to confirm that it would be a logical move for America to legalise soft drug use. The US has spent $1 trillion on the fight against drugs, and the facts just don’t add up. In the past twenty years, prison expenditure has increased six times more quickly than federal spending on education. Television presenter Pat Robertson summed up the problem perfectly: “We here in America make up 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s jailed prisoners”. In fact, there are 760 prisoners per 100,000 people in the US. Compare that to Britain’s 153 (a number still too high) or that of France, at just 96. As Fareed Zakaria comments in Time magazine, “(Americans) have created an underclass increasingly unable to function in normal society, all in the name of a war (on drugs) they have already lost”. 
The main problem comes from the fact that Democratic and Republican candidates have to appear to be tough on crime in order to be electable. So it is becoming increasingly unlikely that numbers in US prisons will diminish. This means that the solution to the problems needs to be a change in the law. More than half of US federal inmates are in prison on drug convictions. It’s time for Americans to swallow their pride and accept that a war on drugs is costly and unwinnable.
The following table shows drugs use and its effects, comparing the Netherlands with that of the United States:
Social Indicator
Comparison Year
USA
Netherlands
Lifetime prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+)
2001
36.9% 1
17.0% 2
Past month prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+)
2001
5.4% 1
3.0% 2
Lifetime prevalence of heroin use (ages 12+)
2001
1.4% 1
0.4% 2
Incarceration Rate per 100,000 population
2002
701 3
100 4
Per capita spending on criminal justice system (in Euros)
1998
€379 5
€223 5
Homicide rate per 100,000 population
Average 1999-2001
5.56 6
1.51 6

People in the Netherlands have a greater life expectancy than in the US. Santorum wants a better America? Maybe he should look at the benefits of the Dutch way instead of criticising it with hollow arguments.
If you would like to see more of Rick Santorum’s (interesting) views, try these YouTube videos:
‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCXgFc5It5c
Footnotes
1: US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Washington, DC: HHS, August 2002), p. 109, Table H.1.
2: Trimbos Institute, "Report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point, The Netherlands Drug Situation 2002" (Lisboa, Portugal: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Nov. 2002), p. 28, Table 2.1.
3: Walmsley, Roy, "World Prison Population List (fifth edition) (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 3, Table 2.
4: Walmsley, Roy, "World Prison Population List (fifth edition) (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 5, Table 4.
5: van Dijk, Frans & Jaap de Waard, "Legal infrastructure of the Netherlands in international perspective: Crime control" (Netherlands: Ministry of Justice, June 2000), p. 9, Table S.13.
6: Barclay, Gordon, Cynthia Tavares, Sally Kenny, Arsalaan Siddique & Emma Wilby, "International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 2001," Issue 12/03 (London, England: Home Office Research, Development & Statistics Directorate, October 2003), p. 10, Table 1.1.


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