Netherlands programs have euthanized otherwise healthy individuals with autism and intellectual handicaps in recent years, researchers have found.
Five individuals under the age of 30, who cited autism as a factor in their decision to seek legal euthanasia, are among the cases reviewed by specialists at the U.K.'s Kingston University.
"Factors directly associated with intellectual disability and/or ASD were the sole cause of suffering described in 21% of cases and a major contributing factor in a further 42% of cases," Kingston University's report on the issue found.
The study noted that in many cases, doctors determined there was "no prospect of improvement" for intellectually challenged individuals because there is no treatment for their handicap.
"Reasons for the EAS [euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide] request included social isolation and loneliness (77%), lack of resilience or coping strategies (56%), lack of flexibility (rigid thinking or difficulty adapting to change) (44%) and oversensitivity to stimuli (26%). In one-third of cases, physicians noted there was ‘no prospect of improvement’ as ASD and intellectual disability are not treatable," the study reads.
Palliative care specialist Irene Tuffrey-Wijne — one of the lead authors of the Kingston University report — found Dutch doctors were legally killing patients who sought their own euthanasia because their intellectual disability or mental condition prevented them from leading a normal life, according to The Associated Press.
One record includes the case of a Dutch woman in her 30s with autism and borderline personality disorder. Doctors determined her afflictions prevented her from maintaining relationships and made forming connections with others "too difficult."
"There’s no doubt in my mind these people were suffering," Tuffrey-Wijne said. "But is society really OK with sending this message, that there’s no other way to help them, and it’s just better to be dead?"
Dutch psychologist Dr. Bram Sizoo expressed horror at the trend of autistic youths seeking assisted suicide and euthanasia's expanding acceptance.
"Some of them are almost excited at the prospect of death," Sizoo said. "They think this will be the end of their problems and the end of their family’s problems."
The Royal Dutch Medical Association has left the decision of who qualifies for assisted suicide up to medical professionals with few hard guidelines or rules.