Wednesday 08 December 2021

Dutch doctors reject separate euthanasia rules for ‘completed lives’

The Dutch doctors association KNMG is not in favour of drawing up specific euthanasia rules for elderly people who consider their lives have been completed.

Although the wish of some people who are not physically ill to die is palpable, new legislation aimed specifically at such cases would be ‘undesirable’, the KNMG said in a statement.

The KNMG says it has carried out extensive consultations with members and experts to draw up its standpoint. The position paper is in response to government moves to bring in special provisions to allow people who consider their lives are at an end to die peacefully.

Last October, health minister Edith Schippers and justice minister Ard van de Steur said in a briefing to MPs that ‘elderly’ people with a consistent and well-considered wish to die – whether ill or not – should be able to take a drug to end their lives.

The practice would not be considered euthanasia, in which the patient is said to be suffering unbearably, and in which doctors have an active role, and family members would not be allowed to administer the drug.

All requests for help would be assessed by a specially trained care worker and an independent expert to make sure the patient is not acting on impulse or has come under undue pressure from his or her family, the ministers said.

Autonomous right

The change in the law would ‘do justice to a legitimate and growing wish in society in general’, the ministers said. However, the cabinet position conflicts with the advice of an independent committee of experts earlier in 2016 which said that euthanasia for people who consider their lives to be completed should not be allowed in law.

The current legislation works well but support for it will be undermined if it is extended to include people who are not suffering physically, the KNMG said. ‘Age-related vulnerability, whereby people suffer from multiple medical and non-medical problems, can be deemed to be unbearable suffering’ and therefore fall under the euthanasia legislation, the organisation points out.

However, separate legislation for people with ‘no medical grounds’ for the wish to die could have an undesirable social effect, by stigmatising the elderly, the KNMG said. Instead, the government should invest in measures to make sure the elderly do not feel their lives are pointless.

The expansion of euthanasia rules are likely to become part of the current coalition government talks. D66 is the driving force behind the changes and the VVD have said they will support them. However, the Christian Democrats, who do not back change, are set to have a key role in the new government.

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