More MS news articles for February 1999

Doctors Say Dutch Euthanasia Controls Ineffective

LONDON (Reuters) - Dutch doctors routinely disregard safeguards created to control terminally ill people's voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands, according to research published Tuesday.

A survey of 405 Dutch doctors, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, showed that strict safeguards established by the Royal Dutch Medical Association to control how and when euthanasia is performed are being ignored.

"The reality is that a clear majority of cases of euthanasia, both with and without request, go unreported and unchecked. Dutch claims of effective regulation ring hollow," said Drs. Henk Jochemsen and John Keown.

Euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide is widely accepted and legal in the Netherlands. Terminally ill patients have the right to die if doctors follow a set procedure. But doctors who do not follow the rules could face criminal prosecution.

Jochemsen, of the Lindeboom Institute for Medical Ethics in the Netherlands, and Keown, of the University of Cambridge, said almost two-thirds of cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide in 1995 were not reported.

In 20 percent of cases the patients did not explicitly request it and in 17 percent of cases other treatments were available, the researchers said.

Doctors who responded to the survey reported that 74 percent of patients said intolerable suffering with no prospect of improvement was the reason for requesting euthanasia.

Doctors said 56 percent of patients wanted to prevent loss of dignity and 47 percent wanted to prevent further suffering.

"It must surely be doubted whether either of these reasons, by itself, satisfies the requirement of unbearable human suffering, as set down in the safeguards," the researchers said.

The survey, they said, casts doubt on assurances that euthanasia would be carried out only at the patient's request and that doctors who perform euthanasia without that request be prosecuted for murder.

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