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Foes Predict Euthanasia Upsurge, Backers See Little Change

February 10, 1993

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Foes of euthanasia are predicting a sharp rise in mercy killings now that the practice has been sanctioned by the Dutch government. Supporters say little will change.

″Hitler did it secretly,″ Dr. Karel Gunning of the right-to-life Dutch Doctors’ Federation said today. ″Now we in our parliament have stated in public that we have the right to end human life.″

But doctors who perform mercy killings and the Royal Dutch Medical Association say Tuesday’s parliamentary vote to sanction euthanasia under strict guidelines will better protect patients from abuse.

″You’re not giving doctors any new power with this legislation,″ said family practitioner Dr. Herbert Cohen, who has helped incurable patients die for more than 10 years.

Medical association secretary Rob Dillman agreed.

″There won’t be more cases, we’ll just know much more about them,″ Dillman said. ″The process will be more transparent.″

An estimated 2,300 cases of euthanasia occur each year in the Netherlands and commonly involve cancer patients. Doctors usually inject muscle relaxants that stop the heart or administer drug overdoses.

Opinion polls show that at least three-quarters of the population views euthanasia as a patient’s right.

Parliament’s decision codifies a set of guidelines the association developed for its members in the mid-1970s. With tacit government approval, the guidelines allowed doctors who follow them to avoid prosecution.

Under the law approved on Tuesday, physicians who prove they’ve followed the guidelines will avoid court action. Those who violate the provisions of the law face a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.

The guidelines aim to establish that a clear-thinking patient suffering incurable and unacceptable pain asks to be killed without being coerced by relatives or doctors.

The doctor must also prove there were no other alternatives to ending the suffering or improving the patient’s condition.

″This will certainly lead to a sharp increase in cases because it will encourage doctors,″ said Willy Dorenbos of the Rainbow-Cry For Life Foundation, which also opposes abortion.

″The government has left it all up to the doctors,″ she said. ″All they have to do now is fill in a form.″

Cohen denied that doctors will now think less carefully about taking a life.

″That implies that doctors think it is an easy solution to apply euthanasia,″ he said. ″Well, it’s absolutely not. It will cost you lots of sleepless nights, torn emotions and fear of being prosecuted.″

Maurice de Wachter, a medical ethicist with the Institute for Bioethnics in the southern city of Maastricht, said the new policy creates an ethical contradiction.

’The medical profession traditionally has the responsibility to fight to the bitter end for anything that can be saved of human life,″ de Wachter said.

″But there is a practice growing where doctors feel at ease with helping patients to die, in other words killing them,″ he said. ″Medical ethics is not ready - not even in the Netherlands - to simply accept that.″

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