Ambassador Defends Dutch Euthanasia Law

Article excerpt

Byline: David R. Sands and Tom Carter, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Terri Schiavo drama has focused renewed attention on the euthanasia law in the Netherlands, one of the most liberal anywhere, where physicians get the major say in assisted suicide.

Boudewijn van Eenennaam, the Dutch ambassador to the United States, disputes assertions that Dutch euthanasia guidelines have put his country on a slippery slope toward state-assisted "murder."

In a luncheon interview yesterday with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Mr. van Eenennaam emphasized that he takes no position on how U.S. courts and medical authorities should deal with Mrs. Schiavo's illness. The disagreement between her husband and her parents, he said, presents unusual difficulties.

Under Dutch euthanasia law, the advice of medical experts in similar cases "weighs very heavily in the final decision."

Critics of the Dutch law have raised alarms over a new drive by Dutch medical authorities to authorize euthanasia in cases in which a patient hasn't given his consent, and in cases of mental suffering not based on physical ailments.

The Netherlands' government and courts have not agreed to expand the euthanasia guidelines.

Mr. van Eenennaam said there were "many misperceptions" about Dutch medical practices, and that his country has never tried to impose its practices on other countries. "There is no absolute right to euthanasia."

He argued that the Dutch law, the product of a broad and intense debate, has given patients, families and doctors clear guidelines while safeguarding against abuse of the law.

"At least we have been able by a debate in our parliament to nail down our approach" to the euthanasia question, the ambassador said. "We consider that a strong point on our part."

In the wide-ranging interview, he discussed the challenges of assimilating the Netherlands' growing Muslim minority; predicted a very close vote in June on whether the Dutch should adopt a new European Union constitution; and said the Netherlands "would not be in a hurry" to lift the EU embargo on arms sales to China.

The Netherlands' reputation for tolerance and "openness" has come under severe strain over tensions involving the country's Muslim minority. Dutch society, he said, has come to realize that immigration "not only strengthens society, there are risks involved."

The Netherlands has a long history of accepting and assimilating foreigners, from Jews expelled from Portugal and Spain to the Mayflower Pilgrims, and more recently Surinamese and Indonesians from the former Dutch colonies. …