The Netherlands Puts Strict Limits on Euthanasia

Article excerpt

Tony Snow's Oct. 5 column, "Death by lethal impatience?" presented such a distorted picture of what happens in the Netherlands that I feel compelled to set the record straight.

In the Netherlands, both euthanasia (life-termination on request) and assisted suicide remain criminal acts under the penal code. Only when a doctor follows a strict set of criteria can he or she avoid prosecution for the practice of euthanasia or assisted suicide. The main criteria are:

* The patient must have made voluntary, carefully considered and persistent requests to the doctor. This implies a long-term relationship of trust between a doctor and a patient.

* The patient's suffering must be unbearable and without prospect of improvement.

* The doctor and the patient must have considered and discussed alternatives to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

* The doctor must consult another doctor for a second opinion about the diagnosis and prognosis.

On the basis of these criteria, the public prosecutor will judge whether a doctor has exercised all due care. If any of the criteria are not satisfied, the case is referred to a court of law; otherwise, the decision is made not to prosecute. When a case comes before a court, the latter has to decide whether the doctor faced a conflict of duties and thus justifiably acted under force majeure. In other words, the court considers whether the doctor was right to conclude that his or her duty to spare the patient's suffering, which was known to be unbearable, outweighed his or her duty to give further treatment, which would entail continued suffering. …