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J Med Ethics 32:34-35 doi:10.1136/jme.2005.012146
  • Law, ethics, and medicine

Commentary: Euthanasia in Europe: a critique of the Marty report

  1. G Widdershoven
  1. Correspondence to:
 Guy Widdershoven
 Department of Healthcare Ethics and Philosophy, Maastricht University, PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands; g.widdershoven{at}zw.unimaas.nl
  • Received 29 August 2005
  • Accepted 7 September 2005

Keown’s critique of the Marty report is as flawed as the report it criticises

In 2003, a report by the Council of Europe’s social, health and family affairs committee appeared, questioning the council’s opposition to the legislation of euthanasia. This report is known as the Marty report. The report contains several arguments in favour of legalisation of euthanasia. The first argument focuses on the gap between practice and law. Legalisation would bring existing practices of euthanasia out of the grey area, and make them more open to control. The second argument is that as long as euthanasia is legally forbidden, patients are forced to continue living in unbearable pain and suffering. In his critique of the Marty report, John Keown concludes that both arguments are invalid.1 He questions the presumed gap between practice and law, and criticises the conclusion that such a gap would imply that the law should be changed. He also argues that the notion of unbearable pain and suffering is highly problematic, and cannot serve as a justification for euthanasia. Although Keown’s discussion shows thorough knowledge of the issue at hand, his conclusions are one sided and his dismissal of the position taken in the Marty report is too easy. In order to substantiate this, I will go into Keown’s critique of the two arguments in the report.

THE GAP BETWEEN PRACTICE AND LAW

According to the Marty report, legalisation of euthanasia would bring existing practice into the open, and make decisions less arbitrary. Keown questions this argument in two ways. Firstly, he raises doubt as to whether the existing laws forbidding euthanasia are that often broken in practice. Several studies indicate that euthanasia is not very common in medical practice. If this is the case, the gap between law and practice is not as large as one might think. Keown rightly …