Nine myths about euthanasia in the Netherlands

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The Dutch law allowing euthanasia under certain sharply-defined circumstances often raises eyebrows abroad. And it gives rise to countless unfounded allegations.

The criticism is often made in foreign media that euthanasia is too easy in the Netherlands. The elderly are said to fear for their lives in Dutch hospitals. A Dutch clinic where people tired of living can have their lives terminated is apparently going to open its doors soon. These of course are bogus reports, but what exactly is the real state of play?

Myth 1: Euthanasia is really easy is in the Netherlands (as claimed by Lifenews)

In April it will be a decade since the Dutch law allowing doctors to perform euthanasia was passed. A patient is required to ask for the procedure specifically and be the victim of unbearable suffering – having an incurable disease, for example – or of hopeless psychological problems. All cases of euthanasia have to be registered with special review committees.

Performing euthanasia and assisting suicide are in principle illegal, with a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison. The procedure is only allowed if the doctor has fulfilled the legal requirements.

Myth 2: Elderly Dutch people prefer to go to hospitals abroad for fear of being murdered by doctors in hospitals in the Netherlands

Dutch hospitals are not allowed to end people’s lives. Dutch people do sometimes go abroad for treatment but this is to avoid being put on a waiting list and get certain operations or treatments more quickly.

Myth 3: Children can use euthanasia to get rid of their elderly parents in order to get their hands on the inheritance

Children have no authority whatsoever concerning the ending of their parents’ lives. One can only ask for one's own euthanasia. Euthanasia is only allowed when people of sound mind have themselves more than once let it be known that they do not wish to continue living under certain circumstances. The request has to be made verbally and in writing to a doctor who has a professional relationship to the patient.

It has to be proven that it’s a case of hopeless suffering. Someone suffering from dementia can no longer request euthanasia since he or she is no longer of sound mind. People can make a living will requesting euthanasia in certain circumstances before they become demented. Relatives can oversee the performance of their parents’ living wills.

Myth 4: A Dutch clinic is to open where you can end your life

Right to Die-NL (NVVE) is due to launch an ‘end-of-life’ clinic for assisted suicides in the second half of 2012. But you can't simply check in when you're feeling a bit down. Patients can make use of the facility only if they fulfil the conditions specified by the euthanasia law but their doctors refuse to carry out the procedure.

After requesting admission to the clinic, patients are first screened and then interviewed by a doctor and nurse. They look into whether or not the conditions of the law have been met and a relationship of trust with the patient is then built up. If a choice for euthanasia is made, the possibility of the patient ending their life at home will first be explored. If that is not possible, the patient will be able to go to the end-of-life clinic. The clinic is operated by the NVVE and as such is recognised by the Dutch authorities.

Myth 5: One telephone call and a mobile team turns up to end your life
(as claimed by Czech TV and Al-Yaum)

From 1 March 2012, six mobile teams from the NVVE, each comprising a doctor and a nurse, will be available to visit patients on request. But they don't simply turn up and kill the patient. The teams can be contacted when a family doctor is unable or unwilling to perform euthanasia or assist suicide despite the fact that the patient fulfils the conditions of the law. A independent consultant will be brought in to make the legal position absolutely clear. Euthanasia can then take place in the home.

Myth 6: Dutch people go around with wristbands saying they don’t want to be euthanised

This allegation was made recently by US Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. Elderly Dutch people, he claimed, had wristbands with the text, “No euthanasia please”, on them. The Washington Post checked up on the facts and was able to reassure the American public. The claim was totally false. What had Mr Santorum heard?

He must have heard that the Albert Schweitzer hospital in Dordrecht has implemented a system using wristbands. Patients who do not wish to be resuscitated, should they lapse into a life-threatening situation, get a red band. Doctors are able to see in an instant the patients who do not wish to be reanimated.

Myth 7: Ten percent of Dutch deaths are down to euthanasia and many people are forced into it (another quote from Mr Santorum)

In 2010, 136,058 people died in the Netherlands, which has a population of over 16.5 million. In that year, there were 3,136 reported cases of euthanasia. That is not 10 but 2.3 percent. The real figure could be slightly higher as the most recent research based on figures from 2007 shows that about 80 percent of euthanasia cases are reported. Forced euthanasia is not permitted in the Netherlands.

Myth 8: Everyone can come to the Netherlands in order to have their life terminated

That is what Chinese website alleged. But in order to be eligible for euthanasia, people have to be within Dutch jurisdiction. Foreigners cannot simply come to the Netherlands and have euthanasia carried out. The legal procedure requires that the patient's request is voluntary and well-considered, and that the patient is suffering unbearably and is without any chance of recovery. This is to be judged by the patient's regular doctor.

Myth 9: Parents can get rid of their handicapped child

This is not considered euthanasia, since very young, severely disabled children, or babies with hardly a chance of survival, cannot ask for an end to their lives, or give permission for it. But this form of merciful death does exist, and is referred to as 'life-ending action without the express wish of the patient'. Doctors and parents decide jointly not to begin medical treatment, or to discontinue one, if it is deemed pointless, or because the situation lacks any hope of improvement.

Children aged between 12 and 16 can decide that they want euthanasia, but they still need the approval of their parents or carers. Teenagers aged 16 and 17 are considered adult enough to take the decision on their own.