At the doctors' mercy

Published: Wednesday 31 March 1999

a report alleging that 20 per cent of assisted deaths in the Netherlands were carried out without the patient's permission has initiated renewed debate on the country's euthanasia laws. A research published in the Journal of Medical Ethics says doctors in Holland -- where voluntary euthanasia has been decriminalised since 1984 -- are ignoring guidelines intended to protect patients.

A survey of more than 400 doctors found that many had intentionally terminated a patient's life, without the patient's consent. Dutch doctors are obliged by law to report cases where they have assisted death. Euthanasia can only be carried out at the patient's explicit request and when there is intolerable suffering without prospect of improvement.

Doctors are allowed to resort to euthanasia only if there is no alternative, such as palliative care of terminally ill patients. Usually, patients are given injection to render them comatose, followed by a second injection to stop the hear.

The survey of more than 400 doctors found that of the 4,500 cases in 1995 where medics admitted they intentionally terminated life, 900 patients had not explicitly expressed a wish to die.

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