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Euthanasia: Mercy or Murder?


The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia in 2002. In the years since, the number of cases has increased by an average of 15% a year. In 2014, over 5,000 Dutch citizens were euthanized.

"The law has changed the way doctors think," says Henk Reitsema, director of the Christian study center L´Abri in Tiel, Netherlands.

Though The Netherlands have become known for defending a "right to die," the images that attract tourists to Amsterdam and Haag or to the countryside of the Netherlands are often filled with the joy of life: flowering tulips, dramatic windmills, tasty cheese. And the country is famous for favoring an individualistic worldview. Marijuana and hashish are allowed in special smoking cafés, and prostitution is legal. Many Dutch think that each person themself should be able to decide how they want to live.

But the Dutch also argue that if people should be free to decide their way of life, they should also be free to decide when and how they die – at least on certain conditions. This was the rationale when the Netherlands adopted the law on euthanasia in 2002. 

Four criteria has to be met before a doctor could start a “euthanasia process.”
1. The patient must make a voluntary, well informed and carefully considered request, directly or through a will.
2. The suffering of the patient, whether physical or mental, must be judged hopeless and unbearable.
3. There are no reasonable alternatives to ease the suffering.
4. The doctor must consult with at least one other independent physician.
(Source: Swedish Läkartidningen, translation Inger Alestig)

Read more facts about euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland followed and adopted similar laws, and there are also euthanasia laws in some of the states in the US. However, the World Medical Association (WMA) condemns euthanasia and calls it “unethical.”

In the Netherlands, the liberal party D66 was pushing to get through the law in 2002. I met parliament member Pia Dijkstra in October 2015 and she is proud of the fact that it was her party that put the question of euthanasia on the agenda.

"We started to talk about euthanasia back in 1970. But it was not until 1990, when the Christian Democrats were no longer in majority, that we could get the law passed," Dijkstra told TMP.

Pia Dijkstra engaged in the debate on euthanasia only after her mother died.

"My mother had dementia. So I know how desperate you can feel as a family member. My mother kept saying, ´I want to die.´ But since she had not written any statement regarding her will, there was nothing we could do for her."

Dijkstra thinks that the law as it was designed has worked well. She does not think it is a problem that the number of cases of euthanasia is increasing every year.

"It is never the case of a slippery slope, as some people claim. I have never met a doctor who says that euthanasia becomes easier to perform each time. Every case is difficult."

Initially, says Pia Dijkstra, the law was used mostly for patients with terminal cancer. But the law was intended to cover more than that.

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