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
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The growth of medical power

Victims of medical power

'Human life may be ended by the physician. In two ways. By discontinuing medical treatment, and by performing a medical act. In the first case, the physician is passive In the second case, the physician is active. He kills the patient.'17 With this conclusion Van den Berg summarizes his monograph Medical Power and Medical Ethics. The publication rapidly gains acclaim as well as notoriety, resulting in a request by several Dutch Members of Parliament to the Minister of Health to establish a committee that will study the problem of medical power and medical ethics. In turn, the Minister asks the Health Council for advice regarding the apparent and increasing uncertainty about medical-ethical issues in the country. The Council's Ad Hoc Committee publishes its interim advice on euthanasia in 1972. The euthanasia debate has begun.

Jan Hendrik van den Berg was a psychiatrist and professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Leiden. Educated in phenomenological approaches (the subject of his doctoral dissertation), he was inclined to give priority to observation and understanding rather than theory and abstract models. From a phenomenological perspective, reality is not an inventory of exact and unchangeable components and data. In his Metabletica, Van den Berg developed a doctrine of changes and changeableness ('metabletica' is derived from the Greek metaballein: changing, transforming).18 Instead of describing continuities, he sought to identify moments of innovation and discontinuity. No innovation, not even a scientific development, can be understood when dissociated from the changing context of cultural patterns.

Van den Berg's metabletic theory is akin to, but developed independently

-22-

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