Palliative Care and Euthanasia

Ethical Perspectives 9 (2):156-175 (2002)
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Abstract

Within a period of one year, two countries have enacted laws that articulate conditions under which euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are permitted. Belgium and the Netherlands thus distinguish themselves from all other countries of the world.In Belgium, palliative care organisations have been pro-actively involved in the debate on the contents of the law, highlighting that if euthanasia can ever be justified, it is necessary to provide good palliative care for all and to include in the euthanasia law what has been called a palliative filter, i.e. a compulsory prior consultation with a specialised palliative care team. In the Netherlands, before the euthanasia law was enacted, there had been a policy of pragmatic tolerance for decades. The enactment itself did not give rise to intense debate. It can be questioned whether the new law would change anything at all since it only officially sanctioned an existing practice. This however does not mean that caregivers in palliative care, together with palliative care organisations, have not participated in the euthanasia debate.In the first part of this article the input of palliative care organisations in the Dutch euthanasia debate is described and explained by situating it in its broader context. First opinions on euthanasia of a variety of palliative care organisations are described. Secondly the Dutch debate on palliative care and euthanasia is analysed and evaluated. In a second part of this article a brief introduction to Belgian palliative care is given. This introduction is followed by an overview of the way organised palliative care has been active in the Belgian euthanasia debate. Attention too is given to the Belgian discussion on palliative sedation, sedation being presented by some as the palliative alternative to euthanasia but seen by others as nothing but euthanasia in disguise

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