Netherlands court sanctions euthanasia for emotionally ill

Saskatoon Star Phoenix (June 23, 1994)

THE HAGUE, (AP)   The debate over euthanasia flared anew Wednesday after the Supreme Court refused to punish a doctor who supplied a fatal dose of sleeping pills to a severely, depressed but otherwise healthy woman.

The Court ruling Tuesday broadened the country's euthanasia guidelines to include the mentally or emotionally ill.

While the country's largest daily, De Telegraaf, accused the government of crossing "a bridge too far," officials said the ruling was in line with current laws.

"There is no need for any legislation at this moment as a result of the ruling," justice Ministry spokesperson Victor Holtus said. "This, comes within our existing regulations.''

That sentiment was not shared by those opposed to euthanasia.

"This is a classical example of the slippery slope,'' said Karl Gunning, head of the Dutch Doctors' Union. “We have always predicted that once you start looking at killing as a means to solve problems then you'll find more and more problems where killing can be the solution.”

Mental health organizations welcomed the court ruling.

Marianne van den Ende, a spokesperson for an umbrella organization of 57 regional mental health centres, said the ruling “acknowledges psychiatric suffering and allows the emancipation of the psychiatric patient.”

Assisted suicide is considered a form of euthanasia under Dutch law. Although the guidelines 'do not restrict, mercy, killing to the physically ill, they do not specifically allow it for the mentally ill.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court found psychiatrist, Boudewijn Chabot guilty of assisting in the 1991 suicide of  a severely depressed woman, but only because he had not followed a requirement for a second opinion.

Although Chabot was convicted, the court ruled he should not be punished. Chabot supplied the 50 year woman with a fatal dose of sleeping, pills.

Dutch guidelines require a patient to be suffering from irrelievable pain, and ask for death, repeatedly and lucidly. The administering physician must seek a second opinion before administering euthanasia, which must then be reported to authorities.

Euthanasia remains illegal but adherence to the guidelines guarantees a physician immunity from prosecution

About 2,700 cases of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are reported annually in the Netherlands, about 2.1 per cent of all deaths. Anti-euthanasia activists say those figures are low.