Steep rise in official Dutch euthanasia

An English translation of the government report on 2009 euthanasia cases in the Netherlands has been released. It includes the statistics about reported cases plus a number of fascinating case studies, including three in which the doctor did not comply with the criteria. 

As BioEdge reported back in June, official notifications increased sharply in 2009, from from 2,331 in 2008 to 2,636 – a rise of 13%. In nearly all cases, the patient was suffering from cancer and died at home. The euthanasing doctor was nearly always a general practitioner.

The 2009 annual report of the five regional euthanasia review committees notes that the number of euthanasia cases has been increasing steadily, by about 10% a year, since 2006. The chairman of the committees, J.J.H. Suyver, finds this puzzling. “It is not possible to pinpoint exact causes,” he says. The government has commissioned a study into the matter.

This year’s report has to be interpreted carefully. Although the committees only found nine cases (out of the 2,636) in which the physician had not heeded the rules for administering euthanasia, it also mentions that one possible reason for the rise in cases is “a growing willingness to notify”. In other words (as other studies have shown), an unknown number of Dutch doctors euthanase patients and do not report it.

Another worrying feature of the highly bureaucratised procedure is that the committees cannot cope with the paperwork. “The secretaries are overburdened and, despite working at maximum efficiency, are now forced to focus on their core task – supporting the committees in reviewing notified cases of termination of life – with the result that other tasks are not performed,” says the report.

These other tasks include publicising euthanasia standards and publishing anonymised case studies. But if the euthanasia bureaucrats are so overworked, they may also be overlooking breaches of the rules. If a doctor notifies the committee that he has euthanased a patient, he is supposed to receive a reply within 6 weeks. This can be extended by another 6 weeks. This year the committee’s workload grew so much that “it was unfortunately not possible to meet the six week deadline in all cases.”

Even though it is one of the most controversial issues in bioethics today, information on the practical side of Dutch euthanasia is hard to find. This is the website for the basic information provided by the Dutch government’s euthanasia review committee (in English): Here you can find official explanations of the criteria for euthanasia and reports from the last three years. It is very useful.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | euthanasia, Netherlands

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