Dutch, Belgians mark decade of 'mercy killings'

March 30, 2012 by Nicolas Delaunay

Ten years after they became the first countries to legalise euthanasia, the Netherlands and Belgium now provide assisted suicide to 4,000 people a year.

Most have been cancer sufferers but there are now also some with Alzheimer's disease, following a new interpretation of the law.

Since euthanasia became legal in the Netherlands in April 2002, "the statute has remained unchanged, but what has changed is the the way doctors interpret it," said Inge Freriksen, spokeswoman for the Dutch .

Mercy killing by lethal injection is allowed in the Netherlands for patients who are fully mentally alert but whose suffering has become "unbearable and unending" due to .

About a third of all the requests deemed to be "serious" are honoured by doctors, the ministry said.

"The concept of 'unbearable suffering' has become much clearer" over the years, said Eric van Wijlick, policy maker at the Royal Dutch Society of Doctors (KNMG).

Euthanasia was provided to an Alzheimer's patient for the first time last year, something which "would have been unimaginable in 2002," said Walburg de Jong of the pro-mercy killing group Right-to-Die NL.

The overwhelming majority of the 3,136 patients who were euthanised in the Netherlands in 2010 suffered from terminal cancer, about 80 percent choosing to die at home.

Six roving medical teams -- each with a doctor and a -- were recently set up to assist people to die at home when their own local doctors refused to give them lethal injections.

Their intervention has already been requested 100 times since the teams were set up in March, De Jong said.

But this has raised questions in the Dutch medical association.

Euthanasia has become the central point of conversation between a doctor and a patient who is suffering when it should be seen as a "last resort", Wijlick said.

"For those people who expressed the wish to die, death is not always the best solution," he added.

Belgium followed the Dutch example later in 2002 with a law legalising euthanasia after a long debate between Christian and secular parties.

There were 1,133 mercy killings in Belgiun in 2011, representing 1.0 percent of deaths in the country, its Commission for the Evaluation and Control of Euthanasia reported, adding that numbers were growing.

The vast majority -- 81 percent -- of Belgians who choose to die by are Flemish, because of their cultural proximity to the Dutch.

"The (euthanasia) law has been positive, as it has made huge changes in patient-doctor relationships," said Jacqueline Herremans, president of Belgium's Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADME).

"Many taboos on the end-of-life have been lifted," she said.

"It allows families to better prepare for it and accept the deaths of their loved ones. They can put in place the rituals, like good-byes and a last meal..," she said.

While most countries forbid mercy killing, the issue is often not clear cut as some allow "passive" , when the medical profession is not required to fight to save a patient, or others where patients can refuse medical care.

Explore further: Dutch group launch mobile mercy killing teams

Related Stories

Dutch group launch mobile mercy killing teams

February 29, 2012
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.

British court: Right-to-die case can proceed

March 12, 2012
(AP) -- In a case that challenges Britain's definition of murder, a severely disabled man who says his life has no "privacy or dignity" will be granted a hearing on his request that a doctor be allowed to give him a lethal ...

Briton with locked-in syndrome wants right to die

January 23, 2012
(AP) -- Former rugby player Tony Nicklinson had a high-flying job as a corporate manager in Dubai, where he went skydiving and bridge-climbing in his free time.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.