Psychiatrists worried about Dutch euthanasia law changes

Elderly (Photo: marina guimarães/Wikimedia Commons)Elderly (Photo: marina guimarães/Wikimedia Commons)

Psychiatrists in the Netherlands are concerned that the Dutch government's plan to allow assisted suicide at the end of a "full life" will put them in a difficult position, Damien Denys, president of the Dutch psychiatrists association NVvP said to newspaper Trouw.

The law is intended for elderly people who believe their lives are complete, but have no medical condition that would make them eligible for euthanasia. According to Denys, this means that someone will have to determine that the person in question is not suffering from depression and that is why he or she wants to die. In the Netherlands there are 300 geriatric psychiatrists ideally skilled to make such a diagnosis, but they are wary to do so, Denys said tot he newspaper.

According to him, the problem is that the assessment of "no depression" could become a license for assisted suicide. It will force psychiatrists to make a judgement on whether someone's life is completed. "The psychiatrist knows very well that the judgement 'no depression' means in principle that the patient may die, even though the means is administered by someone else. Ultimately that assessment is indirectly still a value judgement about the extent to which one's life is complete. Psychiatrists aren't meant for that"

While the NVvP does not have an official position yet, chairman Denys is very critical of the proposed amendment to the Euthanasia Act. He feels that the image society has of "normal" or "abnormal" is strongly influenced by a term such as a "completed life". He feels the government's plan is a "inappropriate outgrowth of our individualistic, pragmatic, productivity-orientated society."