Euthanasia in The Netherlands

T. J. de Ruiter
(Dutch Pentecostal Pastor & Bible Teacher)

1.  Introduction, A brief historical review

The new law on Euthanasia here in The Netherlands, regulating that physicians may, after careful professional consideration, perform 'active euthanasia' on patients, that request for it, is the result of thirty years of discussion about four developments within the Dutch society.

These four developments are:

a. The decreasing influence of the Church on society. Its view on the origin and nature of man, its Christian message, the Gospel and its ethical code, all based on the Bible, have lost their authority and importance for most national leaders and the majority of the people.

b. The concern about the increased medical possibilities to keep people alive, who, if left to themselves without the modern machines and medicines, would soon die.

c. The increase in requests to physicians of patients, who are terminally ill or vitally depressed, to make an end to their life, knowing that this can be done with special drugs, without pain or discomfort.

d. An increasing number of physicians has, during the last decades, given in to such requests, according to investigations. But, in doing so they trespassed the law and should have been persecuted. Many physicians were fearful of this dilemma: On the side the request of their patient and on the other side the law, that did not permit them to perform euthanasia.

2. Euthanasia and the Church

Before me lies a ‘Pastoral help’ brochure, which was officially published in 1972 by the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church - in Dutch, 'De Hervormde Kerk' -’ This church is the main and largest Protestant church in our country.

In this official booklet are - as it says itself - ‘deep questions’ asked. The discussion about them was not avoided and in fact it has developed until this day. I make some quotations out of this brochure. In this booklet we can see how already in the seventies the church began to wrestle with the emerging problem of euthanasia.

In the third chapter the question is asked: “Has man the right to determine when he wants to end his life?” Then it says that some are of the opinion that “active euthanasia is in order when the patient has arrived in the terminal state of life and further medical treatment will not have result.” It is also stated in this official Pastoral Help Brochure that some would not shun discussions about ending the life of a heavily handicapped just born baby! We can observe now - almost thirty years later - how these discussions have developed, paving the way for the new law on euthanasia.

It is my opinion that this General Synod failed already in 1972, as the above mentioned booklet for pastors and pastoral workers indicated to establish the biblical principle that man is not the owner of his life, but a steward of it. Life is God's gift to him and only God does give life - read 1 Timothy 6:3 - and has the right and power to take it; please read Luke 1:20. Therefore no one has the right to take the precious gift of life, neither his own, nor that of somebody else.

3. Our teaching

On the subject of legalizing euthanasia, which is in fact killing, let me first very briefly give a statement about the only reason to kill.

On the foundation of the Torah and the teachings in the New Testament it can be defended that the governing authority has the mandate to use the sword - biblical reference Romans 13:4 - and this is understood as also including the right to execute the death penalty if the offence is of a very serious nature. The human government is the representative of God, ruling over society, protecting her civilians and respecting their right and order. It is of course the right of each nation to determine if the death sentence is in itself legalized.

But let it be clearly stated that human governmental authority has no mandate from the Sovereign God to permit physicians to end the life of a sick or suffering patient. Euthanasia was practised in some ancient civilizations, as for instance in the Grecian, but surely not in the Jewish culture. Jewish culture was based on the teachings of Moses, which were received as a direct revelation from the Almighty God and which placed a high value on human life. Christians do also recognize the teachings of Moses and the prophets as a revelation of the will of God. Standing on these divine revelations for man, his life and ethical code, the new Dutch law cannot be accepted as approved by the Almighty God, the Giver of all life.

The following reasons to consider to perform euthanasia or help with self-killing are therefore on biblical grounds not acceptable:

a. When a patient does not see, being in a permanent state of depression, any purpose in continuing his life.
b. When a patient is terminally ill and wants to die.
c. When a person is heavily handicapped and cannot live a productive, normal life.

4. The Dutch law on euthanasia is approved and in force

Though the Christian Democrats together with the small Christian parties were against this law on euthanasia, it was nevertheless accepted with a small majority by the Second Chamber of our Government in November 2000. On the 10th of April 2001 it was finally approved by the First Chamber of our Parliament.

The new Dutch law on euthanasia and aid by self-killing includes, of course, professional and medical procedures for physicians, that have to be strictly obeyed by them. If any irregularity is suspected the physician has to give an account of his actions.

Some specifications in this new Dutch law are:
The doctor must...
be satisfied that the patient's request is voluntary and well-considered;
be satisfied that the patient's suffering is unbearable and that there is no prospect
   of improvement;
inform the patient of his or her situation and further prognosis;
discuss the situation with the patient and come to the joint conclusion that there is no
   other reasonable solution;
-  consult at least one other physician with no connection to the case, who must then
   see the patient and state in writing that the attending physician has satisfied the due
   care criteria listed in the four points above;
exercise due medical care and attention in terminating the patient's life or assisting
   in his/her suicide.

The responsible minister suggested also that euthanasia on a heavily handicapped person should be open for future consideration as it could be looked upon as an act of compassion. But, do we not always have the responsibility to care for, help and comfort the suffering? Killing such an individual is surely a terrible insult of the Creator, Who gave life as his greatest gift, even to an handicapped person.

Objections against this law are increasing in certain Christian- and Muslim circles. Some members of parliament in European countries around us, e.g. in Germany, cannot understand how this law could ever have been invented here. Steps may asked to be taken against The Netherlands in the European Parliament.The combined Dutch Reformed Churches have taken a firm stand against this law on euthanasia.

Though many physicians are happy with this law - as I wrote above some have been practising euthanasia for years - it is also becoming clear that a considerable number of physicians doesn't want it at all and fear the day when a patient would request them to perform euthanasia or give him help with self-killing. Some Christian physicians have published powerful arguments against euthanasia and the necessary assistance of physicians with it. The article of dr. W. G. van Dorp, a physician and lecturer, 'The unproved effect of euthanasia,' in the leading Dutch Medical Magazine 'Medical Contact' of 25 May 2001, in which he defended very profoundly the position that euthanasia is no medical performance like other medical acts, attracted even political attention and was nationally awarded for its clarity in reasoning.

In this article van Dorp stated that because a patient cannot report about the effects of euthanasia - he is dead - it is impossible for a physician to know if he made the right decision in performing euthanasia. What happens after death is a matter of faith and cannot scientifically be known and examined. There are different ideas about what happens after death and they are all usually attached to religious or philosophical convictions. The ideas vary from a heaven and hell, or a void nothingness to reincarnation. If patients suffer after death less than before cannot rationally, scientifically be evaluated - we can only hope it. For this reason euthanasia is not a professional medical act.

5. In closing

We stand on the basic laws and teachings in Scripture and therefore cannot agree with active euthanasia, which is in fact killing a human being. Passive euthanasia is - in my opinion - permissible on certain natural conditions, e.g. when a terminally ill or dying patient does not want any longer to have medical treatment to prolong his life for a only a very short period. He knows he is dying, wants this natural process not to be hindered, so that he can die. The natural desire to die should in such a case be respected.

I declare: On biblical grounds it must be firmly established that human life is worthy to be protected from the moment of conception till that of death. The ground for this position is that man does differ from animals in that he was created according to God's image and in His likeness: Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7.

Recapitulating: Together with other Christians, Roman Catholics, Reformed or Evangelical, I regret that this law has been accepted and enforced in The Netherlands, but as shown in this article, the practice of euthanasia has been going on for a long time and experts think that only a few cases of euthanasia have been discovered. It will take a few years to evaluate if euthanasia will increase in numbers under this law and if physicians will follow the professional procedures dictated by it.

Instead of focusing on euthanasia we should concentrate on improving the so called 'palliative care,' that is helping those, who suffer terminally. Comforting them and easing their pains as much as possible till death releases them from their mortal body.

We strongly urges other nations not to follow The Netherlands in making a similar law. A truly civilised society should honor and respect the worthiness of human life. Stay firm on the basic principle that human life is to be protected at all times.

9 July 2001, revised 27 July 2002.

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Site 'Inspiration & Insight,' since 1997 / first publ. 9 July 2001 / update 24 August 2011 / Pastor T. J. de Ruiter / The Netherlands