Dutch Euthanasia Law Subtly Pressures Patients, Warns a Critic

Interview with Professor Bernard Crul of Catholic University

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Euthanasia has been decriminalized in some cases in the Netherlands since April 1, when the new law came into force.

The law allows terminal patients with «unbearable sufferings» to seek help from their doctors to die.

The doctors must comply with specific measures. Whoever takes recourse to euthanasia must be certain that the patient «has made a voluntary and well-thought out choice.» And before carrying out the patient´s request, the doctor must consult an independent colleague, who may give his written consent only after verifying the patient´s condition.

The law recognizes the validity of a written statement expressing the intention to take recourse to euthanasia, including cases where patients are no longer capable of deciding for themselves.

Euthanasia may be requested as early as 16 years of age. Parental approval must be given for minors between the ages of 12-16. Respect for all necessary conditions must be verified by commissions made up of three experts: one in law, one in medicine, and one in ethics.

Professor Bernard Crul, of the Catholic University of Nijmegen, talked with Vatican Radio about the new law.

Q: The reference, in the Dutch law, to «unbearable sufferings» is the fundamental justification on which all those who support euthanasia base themselves.

Crul: It´s true. However, some doctors, who have learned about the possibilities offered today for the treatment of patients, say: «If I had known about this possibility, I would not have applied euthanasia to that particular patient some years ago.»

Another important factor is the behavior of persons surrounding the patient. When tranquil and consoling, suffering is lessened. In my opinion, many requests for euthanasia are insinuated to the patient by the atmosphere that surrounds him.

When the patient feels that his presence as a sick person is not welcome, because it is too serious — that friends and family are unable to cope with the exhaustion caused by his suffering — he feels a great impulse toward euthanasia.

Q: At what stage is research on palliative care?

Crul: At a very advanced stage. However, a balance must always be struck between the level of suffering that the patient is capable of enduring and the relief that can be offered with palliative care.

I have patients who say to me: «Doctor, I will ask for euthanasia when I can no longer get out of bed.» Then, when they arrive at this point, when they can no longer get out of bed, they do not ask for euthanasia because they have learned to accept the new situation; they are greatly sustained in this by the position of the medical personnel and their dear ones.

Q: This law allows a 16-year-old boy to freely take recourse to euthanasia. Isn´t there a risk of hasty choices?

Crul: Yes, of course. I am completely opposed to such a solution. Depression is a very frequent diagnosis in adolescence.

Q: As a doctor, what ethical implications does euthanasia have for you?

Crul: I will never tire of saying that at present there are other possibilities. I am convinced that doctors alone must not give the solution. The community [and] society must support the sick and make it possible for people to die with dignity and tranquility. It is not right to limit this to a strictly medical problem. This is a very broad field that involves the whole of society.

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