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Call to allow ‘suffering from life’ mercy killings

AMSTERDAM — Dutch doctors should be allowed — under very strict conditions — to help with mercy killings or euthanasia of patients who are not ill, but who are suffering from life, a special commission has advised.

Dutch doctors’ organisation KNMG published the Dijkhuis Commission report Lijden aan het Leven (Suffering from Life) on Wednesday.

Commission chairman Jos Dijkhuis was widely reported as telling newspaper De Volkskrant that “suffering is too often linked to illness” when he outlined the commission’s findings.

Dijkhuis, emeritus professor of clinic psychology and psychotherapy, said a person who was not able to bear living any longer and had a hopeless outlook on their future could be said to be ‘suffering from life’.

Euthanasia, under strict guidelines has been unofficially tolerated in the Netherlands since the 1970s. The standard was that a patient had to be terminally ill or in unending pain or suffering before a doctor could comply with a request to end the person’s life.

The KNMG set up the Dijkhuis Commission in 2001 following the prosecution of a doctor for helping former Dutch senator Edward Brongersma die in 1998.

Brongersma, 86, was in good health, but no longer had any family or friends to care for him and claimed he was tired of life itself. A controversial figure, Brongersma was an outspoken advocate for paedophilia. He wrote a number of books and articles defending male homosexual paedophilia.

His doctor Philip Sutorius was prosecuted for providing the drugs used to end the senator’s life. The trial court in Haarlem acquitted the doctor after accepting Brongersma’s tiredness of life were sufficient grounds for euthanasia.

But a higher court later overturned the verdict and convicted Sutoruis. Nonetheless, the appeals court also considered that his violation of the assisted suicide law was ‘so minor that any form of punishment would be inappropriate’. The Supreme Court has also confirmed Sutorius’ conviction. The Dutch government has indicated that it backs this decision and does not want suffering from life becoming an accepted reason for mercy killings.

The Dijkhuis Commission recommendations appear to side with the arguments put forward by Brongersma and Sutorius.

The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia when a controversial law came into force in 2002.

It laid down strict guidelines, including that the patient has to be chronically ill or in unbearable suffering. Doctors have to outline other medical options available and two doctors have to agree with the decision to go ahead with euthanasia.

Each case is examined by a committee afterwards to ensure the proper procedures have been followed. The doctor or doctors will not be prosecuted if they have adhered to the rules.

The KNMG said on Thursday the medical profession would debate the commission’s advice in 2005.