Are Dutch doctors losing their nerve over euthanasia?

Michael Cook
1 Jun 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Politicians in the Netherlands are pushing the organisation which represents Dutch doctors to overcome its misgivings over euthanasia for patients with dementia.

The Dutch euthanasia law clearly allows euthanasia for demented patients who have left an advance directive. The number of these cases is climbing rapidly. In 2010 there were 25; in 2011, the figure was 49.

But doctors are reluctant to approve these requests because they are not sure whether the patient would really want to die. A spokesman for the KMG says, "As a doctor you must understand what the patient really wants. Communication is essential if you are to be convinced as a doctor of the seriousness of the suffering at that moment."

The Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) now wants to amend the law. It contends that the doctor who gives a second opinion - which is legally required -- must both see and communicate with the patient.

But medical ethicists and government officials feel that the KNMG is being obstructionist. Former health minister Els Borst, who was responsible for the euthanasia law, says: "A professional body cannot choose its own interpretation of the law."

The government has set up a working party to clarify whether advanced directives suffice for euthanasia. It will report in six months' time.