The
tenth anniversary of the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands
on November 28 passed almost unnoticed. It was the first country in the
world to set down legal guidelines which allowed doctors to kill people.
In a brief feature, Radio Netherlands asked why so few other countries
had followed the Dutch example. Only neighbouring Belgium (2002) and
Luxembourg (2009) have legalised euthanasia, although in Switzerland and
the US States of Oregon, Washington and Montana assisted suicide is
permitted.

According
to medical ethics expert Evert van Leeuwen, other countries still
believe that killing is only allowed in wartime and for state-mandated
executions of criminals. “Here in the Netherlands, we tend to take a
different view,” Prof Van Leeuwen says. “Here, a doctor gets to choose
between his [Hippocratic] oath and his patient’s wishes. If his patient
wants to die, he is allowed to assist them”.

Other reasons are mooted by Radio Netherlands as well:

The
easygoing Dutch attitude toward a doctor playing an active role in
ending a patient’s life appears to be mainly due to well-known Dutch
values such as tolerance, transparency and an almost compulsory urge to
regulate. Ethicist Van Leeuwen: “Deeply
engrained tolerance means that the wishes of others are taken
seriously. Our openness makes it much easier to talk about someone’s
wish to die”.

And
the Dutch are also pragmatic; they want to structure and regulate
anything they can. On top of which, the church – a fierce opponent of
euthanasia – in the Netherlands has little say in people’s private
lives.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.