Guilty verdict upheld in Dutch euthanasia case

Reutes, Dec. 24, 2002

AMSTERDAM, Dec 24 (Reuters) – A Dutch doctor who helped a patient die lost his appeal on Tuesday against a ruling that he had assisted suicide rather than practised euthanasia, which is legal in the Netherlands.

Philip Sutorius helped former senator Edward Brongersma to take his life in 1998. Brongersma suffered from incontinence, dizziness and immobility and said he was tired of life.

But the highest Dutch court said Brongersma’s condition was not critical enough to justify a mercy killing, which is legal only if the patient faces a future of intolerable suffering.

“The question in this case was whether euthanasia is justified also in circumstances where a patient is tired of life,” it said in a statement, adding the euthanasia law had not been intended for such situations.

A lower court found Sutorius guilty of assisting suicide a year ago. He received no jail sentence or fine because it ruled he had acted out of compassion.

Sutorius, who can still work as a doctor, appealed the verdict in a test case seeking to clarify the limits of mercy killing. Euthanasia supporters had encouraged him to appeal, hoping it would help define such boundaries.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise euthanasia in 2001 but doctors must obey “>strict rules.

Patients must face a future of unbearable suffering and must make a voluntary, well-considered request to die.

Doctor and patient must be convinced there is no other solution. A second doctor must be consulted and life must be ended in a medically appropriate way.

The Dutch Medical Federation KNMG said there had been much debate within Dutch society about how doctors should handle requests for euthanasia from patients who were tired of life.

“In practice, this is a grey area and in many cases it its not clear into which category a euthanasia request should be classified,” it said in a statement.

KNMG, which represents about 33,000 Dutch physicians, said Tuesday’s decision had not clarified that point.

Sutorius was convicted last year after an appeal against his earlier acquittal by regional court.

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