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Ethics briefings
  1. Veronica English,
  2. Jessica Gardner,
  3. Gillian Romano-Critchley,
  4. Ann Sommerville
  1. Medical Ethics Department, British Medical Association

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    Legislation on euthanasia

    The Netherlands has waited a long time for parliamentary endorsement of euthanasia, despite it being accepted practice for many years. Until recently, euthanasia and assisted suicide were technically illegal in the Netherlands, although court rulings during the 1970s and 80s indicated that a defence of necessity could be invoked by a doctor who ended the life of a patient. The situations in which that defence could be used were defined and became the Royal Dutch Medical Association's “rules of due care”.

    Many of the safeguards in the rules passed into statute in April 2001 with the passing of the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act. The act decriminalised euthanasia and assisted suicide by doctors acting with “due care”. Doctors will not face prosecution if they terminate the life or assist in the suicide of a patient who has made a voluntary and well considered request, is facing “interminable and unendurable suffering”, understands his or her situation and prospects, and for whom there is no other reasonable solution. A second, independent, doctor must be consulted. There is no requirement for the patient to be terminally ill, and there are specific provisions that allow the euthanasia of young people between the ages of 12 and 16 if they and their parents agree. Parents of 16- and 17-year-olds must be involved in decisions about the young person's end-of-life care, but these patients are entitled to make their own decision. There is no requirement for the patient to be a Dutch resident.

    The Dutch justice department's website has the English language text of the act and an explanatory factsheet at

    In the light of the legislation, the World Medical Association (WMA) has reaffirmed its opposition to euthanasia and its strong belief that euthanasia is in conflict with …

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