Dutch Doctors Win Right to Assist Suicide with Impunity Dutch Doctors in Euthanasia Cases Are Given Full Protection Dutch Take a Further Step to Legitimising Euthanasia

Article excerpt

PETRA BROCKMOLLER lives life to the full. At 65, she goes to concerts, enjoys nights out with friends and walks two or three miles a day from her flat in central Amsterdam.

She also has terminal cancer and has told her doctor she wants him to end her life when she feels the time is right, rather than cling on to the bitter end.

Mrs Brockmoller is fortunate that she lives in the Netherlands, where assisted suicide has been tolerated for many years. Today, the country will move to legitimise the practice with a law that guarantees immunity from criminal prosecution for doctors who help patients to die, provided they follow certain guidelines. After 30 years of public debate the Bill has wide political support and is almost certain to be approved by the Upper House.

Although euthanasia will remain a criminal offence, doctors will now be granted the protection they have long sought. The Bill states that doctors who help terminally ill patients to die will never face prosecution as long as they abide by the rules.

Under existing practice, patients must have made a voluntary and carefully considered request to die, the doctor must be convinced their suffering is "unbearable" and there is no chance of improvement, the GP must have consulted at least one other physician, and the life must be terminated with due medical care. Unnatural deaths must then be reported to a coroner. A special committee decides whether doctors observed the "due care" requirements. The new Bill will allow the review panel, if satisfied the guidelines have been respected, to take no further action.

To a great extent, the Bill is a "symbolic" change to give doctors more reassurance. Johan Legemaate, a professor of health law at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, said: "It takes away the stigma of technically having committed a crime when in their own minds they were just helping the patient."

During the 1990s, when euthanasia had a less solid legal footing, 20 doctors were prosecuted, although most had the charges dropped. …