World Medical Body Calls On Doctors To Shun Euthanasia

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - A national physicians' organization in the Netherlands finds itself increasingly isolated among its fellow associations over the issue of euthanasia.

The Royal Dutch Medical Association was alone in opposing a draft anti-euthanasia resolution at a council meeting of the World Medical Association in France at the weekend.

A London-based WMA spokesman, Nigel Duncan, said the council passed a draft resolution reaffirming "its strong belief that euthanasia is in conflict with basic ethical principles of medical practice."

The resolution urged all national medical associations and doctors not to practice euthanasia, "even if national law allows it or decriminalizes it under certain conditions."

A vote last month in the Dutch parliament made the Netherlands the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia. Doctors are immune from prosecution if they observe stipulated requirements in ending their patients' lives.

The Royal Dutch Medical Association has supported euthanasia under certain conditions for many years, while it was technically illegal but nonetheless tolerated.

Duncan said the resolution would be forwarded to the WMA's annual general assembly, to be held in New Delhi in October, for adoption.

The WMA is an independent confederation of 72 national medical associations - including the American Medical Association and British Medical Association - and represents more than eight million doctors.

Although the association from the Netherlands, whose Dutch acronym is KNMG, opposed the decision, Duncan said it was free to do so without sanction from the WMA.

"If anything, the Dutch would be the ones to leave the WMA because they feel upset - but they aren't."

But he emphasized that the WMA was encouraging its members not to practice euthanasia, irrespective of the changes in the law in their countries.

"We think euthanasia is wrong, we think the Dutch medical association is wrong, and the WMA is urging all doctors, whether they're Dutch or whatever, not to take part in this."

Duncan is also a spokesman for the British Medical Association. He said the UK body was "very much against euthanasia. Straight down the line, we don't agree with what has happened in Holland."

'Mitigate text'

Paul de Vries, spokesman for the KNMG, said the Dutch association has been "disappointed" with the WMA resolution, at it was "in favor of" the new Dutch law.

But he said in a telephone interview the organization would lobby others on the matter in the months leading up to the New Delhi gathering.

"We shall be working to inform our colleague organizations abroad as [well] as we can on the intentions of the Dutch law. Maybe we'll be able to mitigate the text of the resolution that will be voted on in October."

De Vries said although the Dutch body had stood alone on the matter in France, he understood some other associations had not voted in the council meeting.

He confirmed that the different view on euthanasia was not an issue over which the Dutch association would consider pulling out of the WMA.

"There are many very important issues that the WMA is dealing with. We wouldn't consider quitting, of course not."

Asked why he thought Dutch doctors had moved over the years to a position of supporting euthanasia, when their colleagues elsewhere seemed to remain opposed, De Vries said it was hard to say.

"There might be a shift [elsewhere in favor of euthanasia] in years to come, I suppose. It's difficult to think for others, and we don't want to do so. Everybody must do what they think is best for their medical practice, for the people they serve."


The Netherlands also has a pro-life doctors' organization, the Dutch Physicians League. It is one of more than 60 chapters around the world of an international body, the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life.

The president of the Federation, Dr. Karel Gunning, is himself a Dutchman, a doctor who gave up his medical practice to head the pro-life organization full-time.

Gunning said in a phone interview Wednesday the WMA resolution was "extremely good."

It was a "mystery" why many Dutch doctors were prepared to accept euthanasia. He knew of some, however, who had faced discrimination because of their pro-life views, in some cases being forbidden to work in some institutions.

But why the broader Dutch nation backed euthanasia was less difficult to understand, Gunning said.

"The Dutch population has over the years been brainwashed" by television programs and advertising promoting euthanasia, he charged.

More than 80 percent of Dutchmen and women favor "voluntary euthanasia," according to recent polls.

Gunning sees a concerted drive to promote a culture of death. In the weeks since the Dutch law changed, euthanasia proponents had been stepping up their campaigns in other countries, including France, Germany, Belgium and the UK.

He said pro-euthanasia activists claimed the majority of people preferred to be able to end their lives prematurely rather than suffer.

"We say that if a patient is suffering, then the doctor should review the treatment." The Federation supported the concept of hospices, he said, where terminally-ill patients could live out their lives in a dignified way, and with the necessary treatment to relieve pain.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow