Euthanasia Fears as Guidelines 'Ignored'

Article excerpt

Campaigners today warned against legalising euthanasia in the UK after publication of a report alleging that 20 per cent of assisted deaths in Holland are being carried out without the patient's permission.

Voluntary euthanasia has been decriminalised in Holland since 1984, when the courts and the Royal Dutch Medical Association laid down strict guidelines for doctors.

However, research published in the Journal of Medical Ethics today alleged that doctors are ignoring guidelines intended to protect patients.

Dutch doctors are obliged by law to report cases where they have assisted death to the local medical examiner.

Euthanasia can only be carried out at the "patient's explicit request" and when there is "intolerable suffering without prospect of improvement".

They are only allowed to resort to euthanasia if there is no alternative, for instance so-called "palliative" care of terminally-ill patients.

Doctors who breach these rules can be charged with murder.

However, a survey of more than 400 doctors found that of the 4,500 cases in 1995 where medics admitted they actively and intentionally terminated life, 900 patients had not explicitly stated they wanted euthanasia.

Doctors said that in the majority of cases they could not obtain an "explicit request" because the patients were unable, because of their condition, to state competently their wishes.

In 15 per cent of euthanasia cases, however, medics admitted a discussion could have taken place but did not and they had gone ahead because they believed it was in the patient's best interests.

In 17 per cent of cases there were alternative treatment options available - another breach of the guidelines. And 59 per cent of euthanasia cases were not reported to the local medical examiner, according to the survey. …