Dutch euthanasia center sees 22% rise in requests in 2019

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AMSTERDAM (AP) — A Dutch organization that carries out euthanasia received 3,122 requests last year, a 22% increase from the year before, the Euthanasia Expertise Center said Friday.

“Every work day, 13 people say: 'Help me, I can’t go on,'” Steven Pleiter, director of the center formerly known as the End of Life Clinic, said.

The center has experts who advise general practitioners in euthanasia cases and teams made up of doctors, psychiatrists and nurses who visit patients to evaluate their requests and administer fatal doses of drugs if they meet euthanasia criteria.

The Netherlands in 2002 became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia. It can only be performed by physicians who administer fatal drug doses under strict conditions.

The center said it honored nearly 900, or about one-third, of the requests it received in 2019. The requests often were in cases of people with dementia or suffering multiple physical complaints linked to old age.

The center also works with patients whose regular doctors do not want to carry out the procedure, according to the organization's website.

The number of people with dementia who received euthanasia rose from 70 in 2018 to 96 last year, the Euthanasia Expertise Center said. Two of those cases involved patients with dementia so advanced they were considered mentally incapacitated.

Last year, a Dutch doctor was acquitted of murder charges brought after she she carried out euthanasia on a patient with severe dementia more than three years ago. Prosecutors alleged she failed to follow the legal criteria for performing the procedure.

Under Dutch law, people are eligible for euthanasia if they make a considered, voluntary request for it and if their suffering is hopelessly “unbearable.”

Patients can draw up an advance directive stating their wish for euthanasia sometime in the future and the specific conditions that would determine the timing. Doctors must also seek the advice of at least one other independent physician before killing the patient.

The center said the number of euthanasia requests is putting a strain on staff.

“The numbers have a heavy impact on the organization,” Pleiter said in a statement. “At the moment, we have vacancies across the board — doctors, psychiatrists and nurses.”

Regional monitoring committees that evaluate all cases of euthanasia said that all of the requests honored by the center were carried out “carefully,” meaning in accordance with the legislation, the center said.

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