An English translation of the government
report on 2009 euthanasia cases in the Netherlands has been released. It
includes the statistics about reported cases plus a number of
fascinating case studies, including three in which the doctor did not
comply with the criteria. 

As BioEdge
reported back in June
, official notifications increased sharply in
2009, from from 2,331 in 2008 to 2,636 – a rise of 13%. In nearly
all cases, the patient was suffering from cancer and died at home. The
euthanasing doctor was nearly always a general practitioner.

The 2009 annual report of the five regional euthanasia review
committees notes that the number of euthanasia cases has been increasing
steadily, by about 10% a year, since 2006. The chairman of the
committees,
J.J.H. Suyver, finds this puzzling. “It is not possible to pinpoint
exact
causes,” he says. The government has commissioned a study into the
matter.

This year’s report has to be interpreted
carefully. Although the committees only found nine cases (out of the
2,636) in which the physician
had not heeded the rules for administering euthanasia, it also mentions
that
one possible reason for the rise in cases is “a growing willingness to
notify”.
In other words (as other studies have shown), an unknown number of Dutch
doctors euthanase patients and do not report it.

Another worrying
feature of the highly bureaucratised procedure is that the committees
cannot
cope with the paperwork. “The secretaries are overburdened and, despite
working
at maximum efficiency, are now forced to focus on their core task –
supporting
the committees in reviewing notified cases of termination of life – with
the
result that other tasks are not performed,” says the report.

These other tasks
include publicising euthanasia standards and publishing anonymised case
studies. But if the euthanasia bureaucrats are so overworked, they may
also be
overlooking breaches of the rules. If a doctor notifies the committee
that he
has euthanased a patient, he is supposed to receive a reply within 6
weeks.
This can be extended by another 6 weeks. This year the committee’s
workload
grew so much that “it was unfortunately not possible to meet the six
week
deadline in all cases.”

Even though it is one of the most controversial
issues in bioethics today, information on the practical side of Dutch
euthanasia is hard to find. This is the website for the basic
information
provided by the Dutch government’s euthanasia review committee (in
English): www.euthanasiecommissie.nl/en/.
Here you can find official explanations of the criteria for euthanasia
and
reports from the last three years. It is very useful.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.