Dutch Doctor Convicted in Euthanasia Test Case

Amsterdam, The Netherlands - A Dutch doctor was convicted on Thursday of assisting suicide in a test case that sought to define the limits of euthanasia in the Netherlands, the first country to make it legal. An appeals court in Amsterdam found physician Philip Sutorius guilty but did not give him a jail sentence, court spokeswoman Liesbeth Dubois told Reuters.

Euthanasia supporters criticized the verdict, saying it too narrowly defined the medical justification for euthanasia, and hoped the doctor would appeal to the country's highest court.

Sutorius aided former Senator Edward Brongersma in taking his life in 1998. Brongersma was suffering from incontinence, dizziness and immobility and said he was tired of life.

"The reason he was found guilty was because he did not act for medical reasons, but rather because the patient was tired of life," Dubois said. "But the court did not sentence him because he acted out of compassion for his patient and because the court viewed this as a test case by the prosecutor," she added.

The prosecution hopes to use the case to define the limits of euthanasia, she said. The prosecution had appealed against an earlier judgment from a Haarlem court which acquitted Sutorius. That court found the doctor had fulfilled all the criteria for assisting Brongersma in ending his life.

Although the assisted suicide happened before the law was enacted, the court considered the current law in its judgment, Dubois said.

Under the new law, passed in April, doctors can still be prosecuted if they fail to follow strict rules which insist that adult patients must make a voluntary, well-considered and lasting request to die.

Patients must face a future of unbearable suffering and there must be no reasonable alternative in order to be allowed to die. A second doctor must be consulted and the assisted suicide must be carried out in a "medically appropriate way."

Supporters of euthanasia said the ruling was wrong. "Mr Brongersma's death was according to the law now and in 1998," said Rob Jonquiere, managing director of the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Association (NVVE).

Sutorius is now deciding whether or not to appeal to the nation's highest court, Jonquiere said. "We hope he will appeal, but it costs a lot emotionally."

The Dutch Medical Federation (KNMG), which represents 33,000 Dutch physicians, said that although it found the court's judgment a little harsh, it did not think the doctor's actions were within the bounds of the current law.

"We think it was beyond the bounds of the current law. There was no unbearable physical or psychiatric suffering. We don't think being fed up with life is a reason for euthanasia," Paul de Vries, spokesman for the KNMG told Reuters.

Pro-Life Infonet
7. desember 2001