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Dutch Ministers state that “terminal sedation” is different from euthanasia

In August the Dutch Ministers of Health and Justice rejected a call from the attorney general, Joan de Wijkerslooth, for “terminal sedation” to be covered by the same legal controls as (voluntary) euthanasia.

Mr de Wijkerslooth, who is head of the public prosecution service, argued that because terminal sedation can have the same effect as euthanasia it should be subject to same external controls.

In response to questions asked by Mr de Wijkerslooth the health minister Mrs C. Ross wrote that terminal sedation and the withdrawal of artificial feeding and hydration are “normal medical treatment”. Unlike (voluntary) euthanasia, which involves giving medication at a patient’s request which would cause death in a short time, Mrs Ross defined terminal sedation as giving drugs that reduce dying patients’ consciousness so they are no longer aware of their surroundings and suffering. He concluded that such normal medical treatment should not be punished.

The Royal Dutch Medical Association had reacted angrily to Mr de Wijkerslooth’s proposal. The Association’s Counsel, Johan Legemaate, said it would be a “very frightening prospect for the medical profession” if the very high number of these cases were to be treated in the same way as euthanasia.

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