Dutch euthanasia rates unchanged by legislation

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The legalisation of euthanasia in the Netherlands has not led to an increase in the number of cases according to a team of Dutch researchers.

The findings published today in medical journal The Lancet , show that about three percent of all deaths in 2010 were the result of euthanasia or assisted suicide. This compares to pre-legalisation levels of 2.8 percent.

When euthanasia was legalised in 2002, opponents warned that there would be an increase in the involuntary euthanasia of terminally ill or elderly patients. However, Professor Bregje Onwuteaka-Philipsen of Amsterdam’s VU University says there has actually been a drop in such deaths.
Based on interviews with 6,000 doctors and research into 7,000 deaths, the team found just 300 cases of euthanasia where the patient had not given explicit consent in 2010, compared with around 1,000 in the years prior to legalisation.

Onwuteaka-Philipsen told Dutch daily de Volkskrant that this was probably because there was more openness about euthanasia and it was discussed by doctors and patients at an earlier stage.

The research team also found that around 600 people ended their lives by refusing food and drink. Euthanasia had been denied in around half of these cases. Euthanasia is only permitted in the Netherlands under strict conditions and must be approved by two doctors.