Netherlands: a prominent euthanasia case ahead?

Posted on | February 24, 2012 by J.C. von Krempach, J.D. |

Prince Johan Friso in happier times. Will he be protected against euthanasia?

Dutch Prince Johan Friso, injured in an avalanche last week, is in a coma and may never regain consciousness, doctors treating him in Austria say.

The Netherlands were the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia. Originally, the intention was to limit the practice to cases were terminally ill patients themselves explicitly expressed a desire to be killed. Soon, however, as a more laxist attitude evolved, Dutch doctors have gone from euthanizing the chronically ill who ask for it, to people with disabilities who ask for it, to the mentally anguished who ask for it … to people who don’t ask for it. It is estimated that 30% of euthanasia cases are without consent, involving handicapped new-borns, mentally ill people who are not able to make an informed decision, or people in a coma who are being euthanized on the basis of their hypothetical will (i.e. if they had known their situation beforehand). In addition, fatigue and loneliness are nowadays also recognized as reasons for euthanasia, even if the person asking for it is not physically ill.

It may seem cynical, but under these circumstances one is tempted to wonder how long Johan Friso will be allowed to live if he is brought back to the Netherlands. Luckily for him, he is now in a hospital in Austria, where euthanasia is illegal.

This also raises an interesting legal question: would Austria be allowed to extradite the Prince to the Netherlands, given the serious risk that he may be killed there? Or would such an extradition be considered a violation of human rights?

Of course, our hope for Prince Johan Friso is that he may fully recover. Although the diagnosis that was made public today makes us fear for the worst, it nevertheless should be noted that medical “miracles” do happen from time to time, and that he would not be the first coma patient to regain full consciousness and to return to a normal life.

And maybe, Johan Friso’s sad accident will lead Dutch society to reflect once again whether the country’s euthanasia practice should not be reconsidered. In that case, the Prince’s suffering would at least not be in vain.

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Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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