Number of Netherlands Euthanasia Cases Increase, Not All Deaths Included

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 30, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Number of Netherlands Euthanasia Cases Increase, Not All Deaths Included

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 30
, 2008

Amsterdam, Netherlands ( — The official number of euthanasia cases in the Netherlands is on the rise, but not all cases of killing patients are included. The official report mentions only three cases involving physicians who didn’t follow the proper protocols when killing the patient.

The ANP news service indicated the number of euthanasia cases rose to 2,120 last year from 1,923 in 2006.

In three instances, the regional committees responsible for ensuring the criteria for legal euthanasia are followed indicated doctors had not adhered to the law.

The report indicated the committees forwarded information about the cases to the justice department and health inspectors.

Though the numbers show more patients losing their lives, noted American bioethics author and attorney Wesley Smith says the voluntary euthanasia figures don’t include all cases of euthanasia or assisted suicide.

He said these "legalized murders do not include the about 900 ‘termination without request or consent’ non-voluntary euthanasia deaths that Dutch studies have reported doctors commit each year."

Smith said those involuntary euthanasia deaths have "nary a significant legal or professional consequence to the death doctors" and "are not counted as official cases of euthanasia in Dutch death bean counting."

Smith also said the figures likely don’t include the approximately 500 assisted suicides that occur in the Netherlands every year and don’t make their way into the official figures.

"And they also don’t include intentional overdosing with pain control with the intent to kill–rather than palliate," he said.

Smith pointed to the Dutch Government’s "Remmelink Report" which purportedly showed more than 4,000 such cases in 1990.

The new Dutch euthanasia numbers also don’t include the increasing numbers of terminal sedations.

A new study of the use of euthanasia in the Netherlands finds the number of patients killed via deep sedation is on the rise. Deep sedation involves using drugs to make terminally ill patients unconscious until death and the study finds doctors and patients are substituting it for euthanasia.

Researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam found 1,800 people — or 7.1 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands in 2005 — involved deep sedation.

The new Dutch euthanasia numbers also likely don’t include eugenic infanticides, which number about 90 per year according to two reports in The Lancet.

"And while we are on the subject, it doesn’t by definition include the cases not reported, which studies have indicated total about 40 percent or more each year, meaning that there were probably another 1000 [voluntary euthanasias] or so that the authorities don’t know about," Smith added.

"But other than that, I am sure it is an accurate statistic," he concluded.