Official tolerance of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands hasn’t increased their rates significantly in the past five years, a new study shows. A second study, however, reveals that the majority of physician-assisted deaths aren’t reported, as required by a 1994 law.
“As far as we can tell, Dutch physicians continue to practice physician-assisted dying only reluctantly and under compelling circumstances,” commented Dr. Marcia Angell, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, where the studies are being published today.
As for the underreporting, Angell said Dutch physicians find the reporting process burdensome. Moreover, the doctors are troubled by the fact that euthanasia is illegal in the Netherlands, though rarely prosecuted.
The new studies were undertaken to compare the practices in 1995 with their rates and circumstances found in a 1990 study. Both studies found that doctors agreed to carry out or enable patient deaths roughly one-third of the time. Eighty-seven percent of the patients were expected to die within a week. And the number of deaths carried out without an explicit request from the patient - representing 0.7 percent of all deaths studied - dropped between 1990 and 1995, the researchers said.