The response of the law
On 10 April 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia. Although the state authorities – both the attorney general's office and the independent courts – had tolerated the practice of euthanasia for several decades, it had always remained subject to legal control. For the first time in modern history it has become possible for physicians to euthanize their patients without having to defend their actions to the judiciary.
Under the new law that has taken effect in April 2002, the physician who practises euthanasia must abide by a number of specified requirements and can be prosecuted if (s)he fails to do so. For example, the patient's medical condition must be without prospect and the patient must request euthanasia. But such similar requirements apply to other normal medical interventions. For example, a surgeon acts recklessly if she embarks on a dangerous operation when less dangerous treatments are also available. Should harm come to the patient as a result, the surgeon can be prosecuted. The same is true if a physician begins antibiotic treatment without the patient's consent. Except for medical emergencies, patients must ask for help and explicitly agree with proposed treatments before the physician may initiate treatment.
In other words, the fact that a euthanizing physician must abide by these requirements of due care is nothing special. Any physician undertaking any kind of treatment has to abide by such requirements. The novelty of the new law lies in the fact that euthanasia itself, the act of terminating a patient's life, has become lawful behaviour that is sanctioned rather than prohibited by the state. Nobody in the Netherlands is allowed to end
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Publication information: Book title: Death and Medical Power: An Ethical Analysis of Dutch Euthanasia Practice. Contributors: Henk A. M. J. Ten Have - Author, Jos V. M. Welie - Author. Publisher: Open University Press. Place of publication: Maidenhead, England. Publication year: 2005. Page number: 91.
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