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Political Notebook

Dutch media blast Santorum comments on euthanasia

AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum arrived for a campaign rally in Tucson, Arizona.

Comments that Rick Santorum made about euthanasia in the Netherlands have caused a stir in the Dutch media, largely because the figures Santorum used appear to be either exaggerated or outdated and other allegations he makes about the practice are not backed by evidence.

Earlier this month, the presidential candidate and former senator from Pennsylvania brought up the subject at the American Heartland Forum with conservative leader James Dobson. “They have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands, but half the people who are euthanized every year, and it’s 10 percent of all deaths, half of those people are euthanized involuntarily in hospitals, because they are older and sick,’’ Santorum said. “So 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 will not come out of that hospital if they go in with sickness.’’

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He said the Dutch wear bracelets saying “Don’t euthanize me.’’

Dutch news sources have picked up the story and reacted with outrage. “Rick Santorum Thinks He Knows the Netherlands: Murder of the Elderly on a Grand Scale,’’ read a headline in the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

The Santorum campaign did not respond to a request for documentation of Santorum’s claims. But independent sources show the number of euthanasia cases appears to be much lower than Santorum suggested.

Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide became legal in the Netherlands in 2002, in cases of “unbearable suffering.’’ (In euthanasia, a doctor gives a patient a life-ending medicine; in physician-assisted suicide, a patient takes the medication himself.)

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article in 2007 studying the impact of the new law. It found that in 2005, 1.7 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands were by euthanasia, and 0.1 percent were by physician-assisted suicide. Of all deaths, 0.4 percent were lives ended without an explicit request by the patient. (In most cases, the decision was made after talking to family members and/or medical colleagues.)

The study found that the new law actually led to a slight decrease in the number of euthanasia deaths, which had accounted for 2.6 percent of all deaths in 2001. In 2001, 0.7 percent of all deaths were from euthanasia done without an explicit request from the patient.

One Dutch news site cited statistics showing that around 2.3 percent of deaths in 2010 were by euthanasia. By law, doctors must report all euthanasia deaths to a review committee.

Santorum’s data may have come from a summary of a 1991 government report referred to as the Remmelink report. That report found that in 1990, 9.1 percent of deaths in Holland were caused intentionally by doctors, according to a widely distributed summary by the Patients Rights Council, an Ohio-based organization that opposes euthanasia. But other medical studies from 1990 found that euthanasia accounted for around 2 percent of deaths in Holland. The discrepancy could be the result of differences in what is considered euthanasia.

Rita Marker, a lawyer and executive director of the Patients Rights Council, said it is impossible to know the exact number of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands, since a “significant number’’ are not reported. But she said, “I think [Santorum’s] figures are not accurate.’’

Marker said there have been reports of patients, particularly those with dementia, euthanized without requesting it. But Marker said she was not aware of patients going to hospitals outside the Netherlands out of fear of euthanasia. There is no evidence that the bracelets Santorum cited actually exist.

Shira Schoenberg

Top Kerry aide named State Dept. economist

WASHINGTON - In the Obama administration’s latest effort to boost the economy, a top aide to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is being appointed the State Department’s first chief economist, charged with helping boost American business overseas, according to officials.

Heidi Crebo-Rediker, a former investment banker and graduate of Dartmouth College, has been advising the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry chairs, since 2009 on economic issues and will move to the State Department to help implement Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s diplomatic strategy of “economic statecraft,’’ according to a government official briefed on the new job.

Much as she was doing for Kerry, Crebo-Rediker will be tasked with applying the knowledge of finance, economics, and capital markets to foreign policy in the hope of finding international opportunities for American companies.

“This is a very big job,’’ Kerry told the Globe in a statement. “Heidi’s crackerjack and she did a heck of a job on the committee helping connect the dots between global economics and foreign policy. The lines between foreign policy and economic policy that maybe existed 20 years ago just don’t apply to this new world, and Heidi understood this before most people.’’

Bryan Bender

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