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Old problems in need of new (narrative) approaches? A young physician–bioethicist’s search for ethical guidance in the practice of physician-assisted dying in the Netherlands

Abstract

The current empirical research and normative arguments on physician-assisted dying (PAD) in the Netherlands seem insufficient to provide ethical guidance to general practitioners in the practice of PAD, due to a gap between the evidence and arguments on the one hand and the uncertainties and complexities as found in everyday practice on the other. This paper addresses the problems of current ethical arguments and empirical research and how both seem to be profoundly influenced by the Dutch legislative framework on PAD and a certain view on ethics. Furthermore, the paper elaborates on how other approaches to empirical research in bioethics, such as found in the broad field of narrative research, could supplement the empirical and ethical evaluation of PAD in the Netherlands. This paper also addresses the challenging question of how empirical data—in this case narratives—relate to normativity. The paper is written in the form of a personal narrative of the author, a young Dutch general practitioner and researcher in bioethics. This style is intentionally chosen, to illustrate how work context and professional background influence the observations one makes and the questions one may ask about the topic of PAD. In addition, by using this style, this paper not only gives a different perspective on a much-contested bioethical issue, but also on the challenges faced when a physician–bioethicist has to navigate different disciplinary fields and (moral) epistemological paradigms, especially since the ‘empirical turn’ in bioethics.

  • euthanasia
  • end-of-life

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