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01/19/2016

New guidelines for euthanasia in the Netherlands

As I was doing some research on the issue of physician assisted suicide and patient requests for death, I came across a news headline titled “Euthanasia Rules Relaxed for People with Serious Dementia.” Intrigued, I followed the link to learn that the Netherlands are now allowing for aid in dying to occur when severely demented patients have a written euthanasia request. From my understanding, this document serves as a type of advance directive instructing physicians regarding euthanizing the patient once the dementia has progressed to a point where the patient would no longer be considered competent to make the request. The directive is to be written while the patient still retains competence.

I find this new “progression” of the euthanasia guidelines to be cause for concern on multiple points, even beyond my general objections to euthanasia:
– First, I’d like to learn more about the specifics of these guidelines, such as whether or not the written request for euthanasia is binding at law. If it is binding, it holds patients to a decision they make before they understood what living with the condition is like. There is always a possibility that what one thinks will be an intolerable condition of living, may not be as they supposed. Death is irreversible and moving forward with instruction to euthanize a patient is highly concerning, especially when at the time of the action the patient is not requesting death nor able to consent.
– Second, I’m concerned that the guideline change seems to focus on a group that should be granted extra protection legally, and allows for their destruction instead.
– Third, I’m concerned with the rights of Dutch physicians to be able to refuse to participate in this, and any, act of euthanizing a patient. There has been a call for the Netherlands to grant this allowance to physicians, and as the boundaries of euthanasia practice extends, as evidenced in the new guidelines, I think the importance of this recognition becomes even more imperative.

The concerns listed are not all-encompassing, but do highlight some of the issues that stood out to me regarding the Netherlands’ newest guidelines for allowing and extending the practice of euthanasia.

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