The Netherlands’ Approach
Over the past twenty years, the Netherlands has gradually decriminalised voluntary euthanasia and it is now legal. It is the gradual nature of VE’s introduction in that country that is said to have been behind its success.
VE now falls under the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act of 2002. Broadly speaking, the law makes it possible for doctors to administer VE in a range of circumstances. In several important ways, the Dutch law is much more liberal than Australia's ROTI Act was.
While assisting someone to die is still a crime under the Dutch penal code, the 2002 Act makes VE legally permissible. In short, the Act stipulates that a request for VE must be voluntary and ‘well considered’. The patient must be aged over sixteen years and there must be ‘no other reasonable solution for the situation he was in’. If the person is between twelve and sixteen years and has a ‘reasonable understanding of his interests’, the doctor cannot ignore the request, as long as a parent or guardian agrees with the termination-of-life decision. Also, the patient must consult at least one other independent physician.
Since 1990 the Remmelink Reports (investigating both reported and unreported VE deaths) have documented the impact of the changes to the law where VE is concerned. The most recent of these was published in May 2003. To date, the reports have revealed the proportion of deaths as a result of voluntary euthanasia to be constant.
The Dutch consider this type of reporting critical to the ongoing success of their law, and helpful in creating a well-informed debate. In the third of these reports, it was suggested that this type of ongoing monitoring contributes to ongoing social acceptance of VE. Transparency has its benefits.
Read more in Philip Nitschke's first book - Killing Me Softly: Voluntary Euthanasia & the Road to the Peaceful Pill.