In recent years the Netherlands has been one of the most efficient countries in the European Union and one which has been most successful in reducing government red tape. However, this does not extend to government monitoring of euthanasia. Once again, overworked committees dealing with a surge in euthanasia cases were weeks overdue with their reports, according to the 2011 report of the Region Euthanasia Review Committees, which was released recently.
There were 3,695 reported cases of euthanasia or assisted suicide in 2011 – up by 18% on the previous year.
The committees were so short-staffed that they “seriously exceeded the statutory deadline for issuing their findings to the physicians concerned” – a situation which is “unacceptable” and “unlawful”.
There are five regional euthanasia committees. When a doctor reports that he has administered euthanasia he is supposed to submit a report. This is studied by the committee to see if he complied with the conditions for legal euthanasia. A decision is supposed to be issued within 42 days.
However, in the best-performing region, Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe, the time was 50 days. In North Holland, it was 175 days. The national average was 111 days. The government has decided to boost committee membership by 50% from 6 to 9.
Of the 3,695 cases which doctors reported, there were only 4 which the committees found had not acted in accordance with legislation. These were referred to the Board of Procurators General and the Healthcare Inspectorate. The report does not say what happened.
The report fails to deal with the problem of doctors who do not report euthanasia. In an article in The Lancet, an American physician, Dr Bernard Lo pointed out earlier this year that about 20% of the doctors who administered euthanasia did not report it. Were these deaths voluntary or non-voluntary? No one knows, because they were not reported.
In any case, for anyone interested in Dutch euthanasia, this is a vital report. A number of detailed patient cases are given, including those treated by 3 of the 4 erring doctors.