Dutch group launch mobile mercy killing teams

by Jan Hennop

Six specialised teams, each with a doctor, will criss-cross the Netherlands as of Thursday to carry out euthanasia on patients at home whose own doctors refused to do so, a pro-mercy killing group said.

But the plan by the Right-to-die NL (NVVE) has raised eyebrows by one of the Netherlands' largest lobby groups for doctors, who questioned whether "Life-end clinic" doctors would be able to form a close-enough relationship with a patient to correctly assess if their life should be ended.

The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia in April 2002 and yearly some 3,100 mercy killings are carried out, NVVE spokeswoman Walburg de Jong told AFP.

"From Thursday, the Levenseindekliniek (Life-end clinic) will have mobile teams where people who think they comply to the criteria for euthanasia can register," she said.

"If they comply, the teams will carry out the euthanasia at patients' homes should their normal doctors be unable or refuse to help them."

Made up of a specially-trained doctor and nurse who will work part time for the Life-end clinic initiative, teams will be able to visit patients all over the Netherlands, De Jong said, adding the procedure would be done free of charge.

The NVVE said the teams were expected to receive around 1,000 assisted suicide requests per year and have already been phoned by 70 potential patients since the plan was announced in early February.

Strict criteria exist in Dutch law for patients who request mercy killings.

These include that patients must be fully mentally alert when making the request to die. Families, for instance, cannot request a mercy killing for relatives.

Patients also have to face a future of "unbearable, interminable suffering" and both the patient and the doctor -- who also has to get a second opinion from another doctor -- before euthanasia is carried out, must be in agreement there was no other cure.

The assisted suicide is then performed by infusion or injection of a sleep-inducing drug, followed by a barbiturate to stop a patient's heart and breathing, De Jong said.

Each euthanasia case is reported to one of five special commissions, each made up of a doctor, a jurist and an ethical expert charged with verifying that all required criteria had been respected.

The plan received the thumbs-up from Dutch Health Minister Edith Schippers who told the Dutch parliament she would not oppose it as it fell within current Dutch legislation.

"Right-to-Die NL, the organisation behind the clinic and the teams has stressed it will comply with the criteria set out in the Act," her spokesman Ole Heil told AFP.

But the Royal Dutch Society of Doctors (KNMG), which represents 53,000 doctors and medical students in the Netherlands, said it was sceptical whether Life-end clinic doctors could form a close-enough relationship with a patient to decide whether an assisted suicide should be done.

"We are not against euthanasia if there is no other alternative," KNMG policy advisor Eric van Wijlick told AFP.

"But euthanasia is a complicated process. It comes from the long-time treatment of a patient based on a relationship of trust."

"A holistic view of the patient's treatment needs to be taken, including whether another alternative to euthanasia exists," he said.

"We have serious doubts whether this can be done by a doctor who is only focused on performing euthanasia," he said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The role of nurses in physician-assisted dying

May 17, 2010

Nurses in Belgium who administer life-ending drugs in euthanasia and in cases without explicit patient request often act outside of the law, according to a study in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

The death of euthanasia

Mar 29, 2010

It is time to discard the word euthanasia because it mixes ideas and values that confuses the debate about dying, states an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Recommended for you

What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

Apr 16, 2014

How confident are you that the man you call dad is really your biological father? If you believe some of the most commonly-quoted figures, you could be forgiven for not being very confident at all. But how ...

New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

Apr 15, 2014

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling, demonstrated for the first time in Melbourne today, is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well ...

After skin cancer, removable model replaces real ear

Apr 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—During his 10-year struggle with basal cell carcinoma, Henry Fiorentini emerged minus his right ear, and minus the hearing that goes with it. The good news: Today, the 56-year-old IT programmer ...

Italy scraps ban on donor-assisted reproduction

Apr 09, 2014

Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down a Catholic Church-backed ban against assisted reproduction with sperm or egg donors that has forced thousands of sterile couples to seek help abroad.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Caz
not rated yet Mar 01, 2012
It's about time. One has to admire the brave and contovercial stance these doctors and nurses have taken to end the suffering of these poor individuals who have exhuasted all other avenues of life.