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Dutch euthanasia clinic sees big jump in requests

February 7, 2020

A center in The Hague saw a 22% rise in euthanasia requests last year. The Netherlands is one of few countries where the practice is legal and, under strict conditions, available to people as young as 12.

Syringe, hands holding medical equipment
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Belloumi

The  only euthanasia clinic in the Netherlands said on Friday that it saw a 22% increase in requests from people seeking assistance to end their lives last year compared to 2018.

The Hague-based Euthanasia Expertise Center, which helps doctors carry out assisted death, received 3,122 requests last year.

According to the clinic, the number of requests for euthanasia remained stable in 2017 and 2018 but then rapidly climbed in 2019.

"Every working day there are 13 people who come to us and say: 'I cannot go on any longer.' There is a great need," said clinic manager Steven Pleiter. He said his clinic carried out 900 of last year's requests for euthanasia, about one-third of total requests.

The clinic said euthanasia requests were often from people suffering from dementia or multiple physical pains related to old age. Two of those cases involved patients with dementia so advanced they were considered mentally incapacitated.

Read moreMedia misreport Dutch teen Noa Pothoven's death as euthanasia

Reasons behind the increase

A spokesperson for the clinic, Elke Swart, told French news agency AFP that one of the reasons behind the  accelerating figures could be due to a recent court case against a doctor who euthanized a patient suffering from severe dementia.

The doctor was later acquitted of murder charges. She was charged because prosecutors believed she did not carry out the euthanasia in accordance with the criteria set out in Dutch law.

Swart said the case could have frightened doctors "with similar requests who then referred their patients to our clinic," possibly contributing to the spike in numbers.

Swart added that demographic factors could have also contributed to the increase, such as an aging population with more awareness of euthanasia practices.

The clinic said it was struggling to handle the jump in requests for euthanasia.

"We have openings on all fronts, for doctors, psychiatrists and nurses," Pleiter said.

First country to legalize euthanasia

In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia.

By law, all Dutch people over the age of 12 who have met the strict criteria have the right to ask for euthanasia.

Special conditions are put on providing the treatment to children and all patients wanting euthanasia must have "unbearable and endless suffering" and must have requested to die "earnestly and with full conviction."

mvb/sms (AFP, AP)

If you are suffering from emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, seek professional help. You can find information on where to find help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: www.befrienders.org 

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