Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Netherlands euthanasia law has derailed.

By Dr. Sc. Tom Mortier, 
The Department of Health and Technology, Leuven University College

Tom Mortier
It is well known that euthanasia is out of control in the Netherlands. Last year, 4188 people were reported to have died by euthanasia in the Netherlands. (Link). This number does not include the (estimated 20 - 23%) unreported euthanasia deaths.

In January 2014 the euthanasia debate in the Netherlands re-started intensively after the Dutch newspaper Trouw reported a big quarrel between doctors about the euthanasia death of a 35-year-old psychiatric patient in 2012. (Link).

A young woman with psychiatric problems asked her general practitioner for euthanasia. For this purpose, her general practitioner consulted the first independent doctor, but this doctor gave a negative recommendation. A second independent doctor ruled that the euthanasia request could not be granted because, according to him, there were still treatment options. The general practitioner then asked a third doctor, a psychiatrist, who only needed two weeks to conclude that the problems of the 35-year old woman were untreatable and thus a lethal injection was legitimized. Two days later, on December 19 2012, the patient was killed. 

In April 2013 the regional Review Commission on Euthanasia stated that the euthanasia was performed ‘carefully’. Nonetheless, there is now a big discussion between the doctors and one doctor, George Wolfs, has submitted a complaint because he received a negative 'treatment' during the hearings in front of the Review Commission on Euthanasia. Under the twelve year old Dutch Euthanasia Act there has never been such a complaint. (Link)

Now, the Dutch psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot, one of the countries most famous euthanasia advocates, and a former leader of the NVVE, has written an opinion in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that  the euthanasia law in The Netherlands is derailed. (Link) He came to this conclusion after some remarkable Dutch euthanasia cases.

Fourteen euthanasia or assisted suicide deaths of psychiatric patients were reported at the Dutch regional euthanasia review committees in 2012. There were 13 similar deaths in 2011. The euthanasia review committees judged that all of the cases in 2012 were performed carefully. In 2013, the euthanasia review committees came to the conclusion that seven of the nine euthanasia deaths of psychiatric patients performed by the Levenseindekliniek (Life end clinic) were done carefully. (Link)


The Life End Clinic consists of thirty travelling teams that have a doctor and a nurse who will do euthanasia anywhere in the Netherlands. Most of the doctors working for this clinic are general practitioners and internists, but there are also two psychiatrists. One of the psychiatrists is Gerty Casteelen (Link). For example, she lethally injected a 54 year-old woman with a personality disorder, eating disorder and a chronic obsessive-compulsive neurosis. Casteelen doesn’t find it hard to kill her patients because she believes that she makes people very happy. Not only the patient, but also the family who daily sees how their loved one was suffering.

Another patient who received euthanasia in 2013, was a physically healthy man of 63 who was working for a government institution. He never had a relationship and the only thing he did his whole life was work. This man had been treated for a long time for depression, but the treatment didn’t work out. He also tried to commit suicide, but he failed. According to psychiatrist Casteelen this man decided that he wanted to die. The night before his death, he gave a farewell reception for his colleagues. The day after, Casteelen went to his house and gave him a lethal injection. (Link)

It is remarkable that Boudewijn Chabot has stated that the Dutch Euthanasia law has become derailed. In 1994 he was found guilty and sentenced for prescribing a lethal dose in the assisted suicide death of a woman with mental problems. The judge didn’t punish him or impose a sentence on him because of the exceptional circumstances of the case and that he was acting carefully. This judicial statement became the basis for the Dutch euthanasia law (Link). 

More than 4000 people die by euthanasia in the Netherlands each year. People who are not euthanized by their general practitioner or psychiatrist will go to the Life End Clinic. 

Chabot argues that psychiatric patients should only be lethally injected by their own treating practitioners. Furthermore, Chabot is stating that ‘he does not feel comfortable’ with the Dutch euthanasia law because it has flaws and he is startled by the recent developments in the country.

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