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Death and Medical Power: An Ethical Analysis of Dutch Euthanasia Practice

By Henk A. M. J. Ten Have; Jos V. M. Welie | Go to book overview

Introduction

To many people, the Netherlands is identified with tulips, windmills and legalized mercy killing. Advocates as well as opponents view the Dutch practice as an important experiment, the results of which will prove the important benefits or inevitable dangers of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

From an argumentative perspective, it would appear that advocates of euthanasia can make a stronger case. First, euthanasia is between the physician and patient only. Unlike abortion, there is no third person involved who is unable to defend himself yet whose life is at stake. Second, euthanasia and assisted suicide is about patient choice. There now is widespread agreement that patients have the right to determine which medical treatments to undergo and which to refuse, even if such refusal implies death. Third, physicians are best able to counsel terminally ill patients about their prognosis and remaining therapeutical options, such that the patient's choice to leave life is really an informed choice. Finally, it is only fair that the medical system, which created these situations of unbearable suffering by keeping patients alive with drugs and technologies, also offer patients a way out, a humane and dignified exit. Thus all important principles of medical ethics are fulfilled. First, nobody is being harmed. Second, patient autonomy is respected. Third, the patient's best interests are fostered. Finally, legalization of euthanasia restores justice.

Unable to deny the apparent validity of these arguments in favour of legalized euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, opponents of euthanasia frequently resort to scare tactics. Once assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia are accepted and have become common, society will move towards mercy killing of demented patients; the mentally handicapped will be next; then disabled newborns; and soon every terminally ill patient will

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