Apart from the Northern Territory of Australia, where legislation has recently been enacted, the country which has come closest to the legalization of active voluntary euthanasia is the Netherlands. Although active voluntary euthanasia is still illegal in that country, it is now practised quite openly by the medical profession and there are very few prosecutions of doctors involved in the practice. Developments in the Netherlands have naturally attracted interest in other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada, and Australia where there is growing pressure for the legalization of active voluntary euthanasia. The Dutch position is often cited by euthanasia proponents as a model of social reform which demonstrates the benefits of sanctioned active voluntary euthanasia and which ought to be followed in other countries. The object of this chapter is to examine the law and practice with regard to active voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands.
There is no doubt at all that the Netherlands offers a unique opportunity to those interested in the legalization of active voluntary euthanasia to assess the effects of State-sanctioned active voluntary euthanasia upon the law, medicine, health care, and social policy.1 In essence, the practice of active voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands constitutes a social experiment which is open to analysis and may provide important lessons for other countries in any future attempts to legalize active voluntary euthanasia.
There has, for some time, been some difficulty in obtaining reliable information about the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands, not the least of which has been the language barrier, and the lack of scholarly literature on the Dutch position available in English. In more recent years, however, as interest in the Netherlands has heightened, the available literature has increased and many items written by Dutch scholars have subsequently been translated into English. There has also recently been a major government-commissioned inquiry into medical decisions affecting the end of life which has produced the most comprehensive information to date about the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands.2____________________