Euthanasia in the Netherlands

A Brief History

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Before 1973, euthanasia was illegal in the Netherlands.

In that year, a doctor was arrested and put on trial for killing her terminally ill mother with morphine. The court gave her a suspended sentence of one week in jail and a year's probation.

This set a precedent, and the courts quickly established a set of guidelines for when it was permissible for physicians to assist a patient in committing suicide, such as requiring certain consultations, insisting that the patient must be suffering from a terminal illness, and that the patient must request it.

In 1984, the Royal Society of Medicine issued "rules of careful conduct" for euthanasia. These called for the doctor to inform the patient of his condition, consult his nearest relatives (unless he objects), consult at least one other physician, keep written records, and, in the case of a child, obtain the consent of the parents or legal guardians.

In 1985 a court dropped the "terminal illness" requirement in a case involving a young girl with multiple sclerosis. While her disease was incurable, there was no reason why she could not have lived indefinately. (In a more recent case a woman who was perfectly healthy but suffering from severe depression was euthanized at her request.)

By the late 80's it had become routine to "euthanize" babies born with handicaps, like Down's syndrome and spina bifida.

Three nurses in Amsterdam killed several comatose patients without any consent. They were convicted, not of homicide, but of failing to consult a physician.

In 1990, physicians in the Netherlands were involved in 11,800 deaths, or 9% of all deaths in the country. Of these, half were labeled "active involuntary euthanasia", that is, the patient was killed without his consent.1

In 1995, Parliament passed legislation which codified these court decisions into law.


1 Medische Beslissingen Roknd Het Levenseinde: Rapport van de Commissie Onderzoek Medische Praktijk inzake Euthanasie (Medical Decisions About the End of Life: Report of the Committee to Investigate the Medical Practice Concerning Euthanasia) The Hague, 1991

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Posted 9 Sep 2000.

Copyright 1996 by Ohio Right to Life
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