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Netherlands: new book on history and practice of Euthanasia revives debate

A new book, published by Anne-Mei The, a well known Dutch lawyer, anthropologist and writer on these issues, has revived parts of the debate in the Netherlands. Apart from the book giving an anecdotal, historic overview of the Dutch developments seen from the doctors point of view, the book suggests that even Els Borst, the Health Minister who introduced, defended and realised the famous Dutch Euthanasia law in 2002, has second thoughts. She was claimed to have said in the book that “… she thought it was wrong to put euthanasia before palliative care. In the Netherlands we first lend an ear to political and public call for legalising euthanasia.” The added: “… Other countries were much more advanced in palliative care: by adopting the euthanasia law the Netherlands went the other way. Euthanasia came first, palliative care came afterwards”. See an article on NRC’s English site by clicking here.

Later Els Borst wrote a Letter to the Editor of NRC (available in Dutch only), in which she vehemently denied  the suggestion (conclusions from The’s book?) that she nowadays thinks she made a mistake then. “I was the minister who started a Palliative Care project in the Netherlands some 5 years before (!) the law was discussed, with a strategy to have Palliative Care available in ALL health institutions, and not only in hospices”.

Currently the Dutch Palliative Care system is in the top of European PC (nr 4 of 27) according to presented results of research at the last European Association for Palliative Care Congress in 2008. Anne-Mei The stated that Palliative Care WAS poor at the time the euthanasia debate started in 1971 (the term Palliative care barely existed then, with only St. Christophers and Dame Cecily Saunders in London as pioneers).