The Facing Death series has a strong commitment to exploring some of the more challenging issues that surround end of life care in our society. Of these, none is more controversial, complex or frequently misunderstood as that form of legalised, medical killing that we have come to call euthanasia. In recent times the country that has attracted most attention in these debates is of course the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been more openly practiced, first as a decriminalised activity and then as an action legal in the sight of the law, if subject to particular guidelines and procedures.
This new addition to the series is therefore most welcome. Henk ten Have and Jos Welie have spent two decades observing and studying the Dutch euthanasia scene. They bring to their subject matter the analytic powers of bioethics and moral philosophy, coupled with skilled historical and socio-cultural observation. They take us through a comprehensive account of cases, debates and practices surrounding euthanasia in the Netherlands, beginning with the famous Postma case of 1971 and moving through to the enactment of new legislation in 2002. Their thesis is challenging. Seeing euthanasia as initially a reaction to medical dominance at the end of life, they argue that, paradoxically, its legalisation in the Netherlands has led to an unprecedented increase in medical power over life, unparalleled in the history of medicine and indeed exceeding that of the modern state itself. They point to the profusion of definitions, criteria and justifications for euthanasia that have been shifting and altering on a frequent basis over the last three decades. They suggest that this is itself evidence of an inadequate theoretical basis for the justification of euthanasia, making it subject to a raft of changing empirical and contingent influences. Their detailed description of these processes makes compelling reading.