Netherlands marks ten years of legal euthanasia

Michael Cook
Reproduced with Permission

The tenth anniversary of the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands on November 28 passed almost unnoticed. It was the first country in the world to set down legal guidelines which allowed doctors to kill people. In a brief feature, Radio Netherlands asked why so few other countries had followed the Dutch example. Only neighbouring Belgium (2002) and Luxembourg (2009) have legalised euthanasia, although in Switzerland and the US States of Oregon, Washington and Montana assisted suicide is permitted.

According to medical ethics expert Evert van Leeuwen, other countries still believe that killing is only allowed in wartime and for state-mandated executions of criminals. "Here in the Netherlands, we tend to take a different view," Prof Van Leeuwen says. "Here, a doctor gets to choose between his [Hippocratic] oath and his patient's wishes. If his patient wants to die, he is allowed to assist them".

Other reasons are mooted by Radio Netherlands as well:

The easygoing Dutch attitude toward a doctor playing an active role in ending a patient's life appears to be mainly due to well-known Dutch values such as tolerance, transparency and an almost compulsory urge to regulate. Ethicist Van Leeuwen: "Deeply engrained tolerance means that the wishes of others are taken seriously. Our openness makes it much easier to talk about someone's wish to die".

And the Dutch are also pragmatic; they want to structure and regulate anything they can. On top of which, the church - a fierce opponent of euthanasia - in the Netherlands has little say in people's private lives.