Third evaluation of the euthanasia law (WC2015-048)

Background

Starting date: 01/09/2015

On April 1, 2002, the euthanasia law was enacted. The law codified an existing practice of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide which was until that moment only supported by legal precedence. 

The first national study researching the practice of euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and other end-of-life decisions took place in 1990. This was repeated  quinquennial ever since. In 1990 the reported percentage of cases of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide was 18%. After establishing an official notification procedure, this percentage had increased to 41% in 1995. At that time, an important reason not to report cases of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide was the fear that a legal assessment alone would not do justice to important medical and medical-ethical aspects of this practice. Therefore, five Regional Review Committees for Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide were established in 1998, each consisting of at least one physician and an ethicist besides a legal specialist. After esteblisment of these Review Committees, the reporting rate increased to 54%.

Since the euthanasia law was enacted, it has been evaluated twice. By the time the law was evaluated for the first time (2005), the reporting rate had increased to 80%. Based on the first evaluation it was concluded that the law had attained its goal and that there were no indications that substantial changes in the law or policy were needed. The frequency of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide had decreased, the reporting rate increased and there were no indications of a 'slippery slope' with regard to the practices of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. 

When the law was evaluated for the second time, in 2010, a reporting rate of 77% was found. However, the results indicated that physicians who did not report cases of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide did not see their practice as euthanasia but rather as adequate terminal care by treating symptoms using morphine. It was concluded that the law contributed to accuracy and transparency of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and enhanced the legal security of physicians who practiced it.  

Following up on the first (2005) and second evaluation (2010) of the law, the euthanasia law is now being evaluated for the third time.