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

3
The medical practice of euthanasia

Introduction

In Chapter 2 we have seen that euthanasia is generally defined in the Netherlands as 'the intentional termination of the life of a person by someone other than that person at the latter's request'. The definition does not mention either doctors or patients. Granted, many persons who die through euthanasia are patients. They are severely ill or in chronic pain the domain of physicians. But in the case of euthanasia, the illness is not halted, the patient's life is. Moreover, not all persons dying through euthanasia are 'patients' in the medical sense of that term. As we will see in this chapter, some are simply old and tired of living. Others are unwilling to cope with tragedies. Still others want euthanasia preventively, that is, before cancer or Alzheimer's disease strikes. Hence, for all medical purposes, these persons are still healthy and not in need of medical treatment. Indeed, the Dutch government has repeatedly insisted that euthanasia and assistance in suicide are not medical interventions proper, a position espoused once again in its 2002 explanatory brochure about the new euthanasia law.

Yet euthanasia and assistance in suicide have always been the prerogative of physicians in the Netherlands. Whenever lay persons end the life of a beloved family member stricken by terminal illness and begging to be killed, the courts typically have turned against them. Most Dutch citizens believe that euthanasia is justified if and only if it is practised by a physician. The Royal Dutch Medical Association and most Dutch physicians likewise claim the practice as their own. The 2001 law legalizing euthanasia specifically grants this right to physicians and only to them.

At the close of this chapter, we will raise the question as to why

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