Charge Expected to stand, says expert


Murder charges against a Dutch doctor who assisted the suicide of a 72-year-old cancer patient will do little to slow the drive toward euthanasia in that country, says the president of Canada’s Compassionate Healthcare Network Association (CHNA).

Cheryl Eckstein told The Interim from her Surrey, B.C. base that charges against euthanasia-performing doctors in the Netherlands have little significance.

“These charges are really nothing more than a slap on the wrist,” Eckstein said. “There is nothing in the Netherlands that protects the patient from euthanasia. The laws there are really about protecting doctors from prosecution.”

Murder charges against doctors are rare in the Netherlands due to lax interpretations of the country’s laws covering euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The British Medical Journal reported that the doctor in question visited a female patient at a nursing home in Leeuwarden, Friesland the evening of April 17. The woman died unexpectedly the next morning and the doctor was arrested the following day.

The doctor claims he ended the woman’s life “at her request.” He also claims the patient made “explicit, serious and penetrating” petitions to commit suicide. Local authorities however, decided to press murder charges when it was determined the doctor failed to follow the country’s comprehensive guidelines on euthanasia.
Although euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Holland, they are routinely carried out on terminally ill or suffering patients. In 1984, the Dutch Supreme Court rules euthanasia performing doctors would be free of criminal prosecution if they followed specific guidelines put forward by the Dutch Medical Association.

A 1994 law continued the ban on euthanasia, but allowed doctors to avoid prosecution provided they complete an extensive questionnaire. Among the information required is the nature of the patient’s request to end his or her life, degree of suffering on the part of the patient, pain management options and the voluntary and persistent quality of the patient’s request.

The guidelines also require a second medical opinion prior to proceeding with an assisted suicide. Studies undertaken since 1984 reveal a growing acceptance for assisted suicide in the Netherlands. What is even more disturbing is the tendency of some Dutch doctors to euthanize patients who hadn’t specifically requested suicide, including the psychiatrically unstable and those unable to communicate their wishes.

Eckstein cited the Netherlands as an example of the failure to develop proper palliative and hospice care programs, the country embraced euthanasia as a solution to patient’s pain and suffering.

She expressed concern that a similar situation may arise in Australia’s Northern Territory which recently passed the world’s first law allowing euthanasia.

“The Australian government is now financially dealing with this new law allowing killing,” she said. “They have no palliative care training so they are trying to get education on how to euthanize.”