More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Dutch medics back 'euthanasia' doctor

Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 23:48 GMT
By Geraldine Coughlan at The Hague

In the Netherlands a group of doctors have announced that they have set up a fund to pay the legal costs of one of their colleagues who is appealing against a murder conviction for assisting the death of a patient who had not requested euthanasia.

The case widens the debate on mercy killings in the Netherlands, which became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia on the 1 January.

A Dutch court found Dr Wilfred van Ooijen guilty of murder last year but did not sentence him.

The doctor helped an 84-year-old woman to die in a Christian nursing home in 1997.

Legal criteria

The patient was terminally ill and in a coma, but had not requested euthanasia - one of the conditions required for a doctor to end a patient's life.

Dr van Ooijen also failed to meet another requirement when he did not seek a second medical opinion.

The doctor's supporters claim the case is not about euthanasia but medical ethics, and that doctors encounter similar situations regularly.

An estimated 5,000 people die from euthanasia in the Netherlands each year, but only half of these cases are reported.

Ongoing fears

Under the new law doctors can no longer be prosecuted if they perform euthanasia with due care. The authorities hope this will encourage more openness.

But some doctors like Dr van Ooijen do not always adhere to the strict medical guidelines, when they take the decision to help a patient with a humane death.

And some experts feel the cases of many mercy killings will continue to go unreported, while doctors fear that they, like Dr van Ooijen, could end up being labelled a murderer.