SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Twice as many people will probably be granted euthanasia eight years from now, according to the outgoing head of a centre specialised in complicated requests. Steven Pleiter, chairman of the Expertisecentrum Euthanasie (formerly the End-of-life clinic) in The Hague told Trouw that given the increase in older people, he expects annual euthanasia cases to double to some 12,000.
‘The post-war generation, old people now, had a liberal upbringing and have strong ideas about the end of their lives,’ he reportedly said. ‘I expect that the nationwide figures will double in the next eight years given the growing numbers of old people.’
Last year, according to the latest report from the RTE body which analyses all cases, there were 6,361 cases of euthanasia, a growth from the previous year but still less than the peak in 2017.
Just over 4% of the country’s total deaths were through euthanasia, and 91% of these were for terminal medical conditions such as cancer and lung problems.
Requests made to the Euthanasiacentrum Euthanasie – set up as an option for treatment when people’s GP cannot or will not help – increased by 15% last year and Pleiter told Trouw that the centre granted euthanasia to 900 people.
It is specialised in making a decision for complex requests such as for people with (advanced) dementia or psychiatric complaints, representing 2.5% and 1% of 2019 euthanasia deaths respectively.
Last year, two people were given euthanasia when they had advanced dementia, according to the RTE. The 2002 euthanasia law has strict conditions for requesting euthanasia from a doctor, including that the suffering is experienced as unbearable, there are no alternative treatments and that an independent doctor has confirmed the diagnosis.
‘We have shown that with a number of conditions euthanasia is still possible, while we thought in 2012: “that could be complex,”’ Pleiter reportedly said to Trouw.
However, concerns have been growing about the limits of the law in the Netherlands.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court overturned a murder verdict for a doctor who had given a woman with advanced dementia a sedative in her coffee and asked her relative to hold her down when she appeared to draw back from the lethal injection.
This was the first ever court case around the law alleging murder, and public prosecutors said they pursued it to get legal clarity on cases of advanced dementia and whether a written ‘advance directive’ can stand for a person’s wishes when they can no longer express them.
The Supreme Court ruled this was acceptable. Meanwhile, D66 MP Pia Dijkstra has now submitted controversial draft legislation that would allow over 75s to request euthanasia without advanced suffering but because they feel their lives are complete.