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Euthanizing people who are 'tired of life'

Cohen-Almagor, Raphael

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Abstract

In Belgium and the Netherlands, a debate is developing about people who express a desire to end their lives although they do not suffer from an incurable, life-threatening disease. In 2000, a court in Haarlem in the Netherlands considered the case of 86-year-old Edward Brongersma who had expressed his wish to die to his general practitioner, Dr Philip Sutorius, claiming that death had ‘forgotten’ him. His friends and relatives were dead, and he experienced ‘a pointless and empty existence’ (Sheldon 2000). After repeated requests, Dr Sutorius euthanized his insisting patient and was then put on trial. The public prosecution recognized that Dr Sutorius fulfilled all the legal criteria but one: ‘hopeless and unbearable suffering’. Therefore, the patient’s request should have been refused. The court did not discipline Dr Sutorius, saying that the patient was obsessed with his ‘physical decline’ and ‘hopeless existence’ and therefore was suffering ‘hopelessly and unbearably’. A spokesman for the Royal Dutch Medical Association reacted to the court judgement by saying that the definition of ‘unbearable suffering’ had been stretched too far and that ‘what is new is that it goes beyond physical or psychiatric illness to include social decline’ (Cohen-Almagor 2004). The then Justice Minister Benk Korthals said that being ‘tired of life’ is not sufficient reason for euthanasia (Sheldon 2000). Since then, the debate as to whether physicians should comply with euthanasia requests of people who are ‘tired of life’ has been widened and many people in Belgium and in The Netherlands are calling for the law to be expanded in order to include similar patients (Van Wijngaarden et al. 2014).

Publication Date Sep 21, 2017
Journal Euthanasia and assisted suicide
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Pages 188-201
Series Title Cambridge Bioethics and Law
Book Title Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
ISBN 9781108182799
DOI https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108182799.012
Keywords Euthanasia; Belgium
Publisher URL Details of the book are available at http://www.cambridge.or...=HB#WZPHtHoc3WZE2eK7.97
Copyright Statement ©2018 The author. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.
Additional Information This material has been published in Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: Lessons from Belgium by / edited by David Albert Jones, Chris Gastmans and Calum MacKellar. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Raphael Cohen-Almagor.

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