Taking one’s own Life

Euthanasia and Suicide in Dutch Law with a short excursus to German Law

by Irene Sagel-Grande (Author)
©2022 Monographs 140 Pages


The book describes the historical development of the legislation on euthanasia and suicide in The Netherlands. During the last about 70 years. Part 1 summarizes the development until about 2017. Parts 2 and 3 deal with the period from August 2017 until about the end of February 2022. The book ends when neither in the Netherlands nor in Germany legislation on euthanasia was completed. Presently, in many countries, legislation on euthanasia is discussed, about to be prepared, or there already exist legislative proposals. The aim of the book is to let the Dutch respective public opinions, political ideas, research results, proposals from legal academics, science, and court decisions participate in the international discussion so that in so far comparison can help also to find answers to open questions and satisfying legal regulations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part 1 The development of Euthanasia and Law from the beginning until 2017
  • 1. The development of the legal regulation, its practice, and a new draft bill
  • 1.1. The development until the introduction of the Dutch Law on Euthanasia 2001
  • 1.2. Terminology
  • 1.3. Special Dutch Criminal Law aspects, and their influence on the development of the application of law in the Netherlands in general, and especially in connection with euthanasia
  • 1.4. The development in practice until 2005
  • 1.4.1. Important judgments 1952 until 1986
  • The Postma Case
  • The Wertheim Case
  • The Schoonheim Case
  • 1.4.2. Criminal policy discussions on euthanasia between 1984 and 1992
  • The bill Wessel - Tuinstra
  • The Royal Netherlands Medical Society (KNMG)
  • The State Commission Remmelink and the research by Van der Maas c. s.
  • 1.4.3. Important judgments between 1992 and 2002
  • The Chabot Case
  • The Brongersma Case
  • 2. Special provisions developed for the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide
  • 2.1. The institution of SCEN doctors
  • 2.2. The obligation to report
  • 2.3. The Regional Review Committees for termination of life on request and assisted suicide
  • 2.4. Empirical research and the evaluation of the reporting procedure between 1990 and 1995
  • 3. The Dutch Law on Euthanasia in full “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act 2001”
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. The content of the Dutch Law on Euthanasia
  • 3.2.1. Chapters I and II
  • 3.2.2. Chapter III
  • 3.2.3. Chapter IV
  • Main amendments in the Criminal Code
  • Main amendments in the Burial and Cremation Act
  • 3.3. The Review Procedures step by step
  • 3.4. Euthanasia and Dementia
  • 3.5. Evaluations of the Law on Euthanasia
  • 3.5.1. Introduction
  • 3.5.2. General findings 2011
  • 3.5.3. Some important results of the evaluations 2011 and 2017
  • 3.6. Results of the introduction of the Law on Euthanasia
  • 3.7. The latest Ministerial Order about prosecution decisions concerning active termination of life on request of the Department of Prosecution of the 17th of May 2017
  • 4. The State of Affairs in 2017
  • 4.1. Introduction
  • 4.2. The discussion on “The Right to Commit Suicide” in recent years
  • 4.3. A new draft-bill
  • 4.4. The Dutch Society for Psychiatry
  • 5. Final remarks 2017
  • Part 2 The development from 2017 until the end of 2021
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The coalition agreement 2017–2021
  • 3. Continuation and final judgment of the Heringa Case
  • 4. The “Perspective Research”
  • 4.1. Introduction
  • 4.2. The quantitative research
  • 4.2.1. The 21,294 interviewees aged 55 years and older
  • 4.2.2. The interviewed medical practitioners
  • 4.3. The qualitative research
  • 4.3.1. Introduction
  • 4.3.2. Experiences in connection with the wish to die
  • 4.3.3. The development of the death-wish in time
  • 5. The judgement of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands of April 21st, 2020
  • 5.1. Introduction and the facts of the case
  • 5.2. The most important considerations of the Supreme Court and their grounds in the criminal case
  • 5.3. The judgement of the Supreme Court in the respective disciplinary case
  • 6. The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) and the judgment of the Supreme Court of April 21st, 2020
  • 7. The introduction of the “Completed Life” draft-bill in parliament
  • 8. Euthanasia and palliative sedation
  • 9. Euthanasia and demented people
  • 9.1. Critical comments of the Health and Youth Inspection and the Medical Disciplinary Board
  • 9.2. The proposal to make euthanasia for demented elderly people possible already in an earlier state
  • 9.3. The chapter on demented people in the KNMG and KNMP (the Royal Dutch association for the promotion of Pharmacy) guideline “Implementation of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide” 2021
  • 10. Free access to lethal means?
  • 11. Euthanasia and children beyond human aid, aged 1–12 years
  • 12. Summary of the recent developments in the Netherlands
  • 13. Excursus: The Corona Pandemic
  • Part 3 Open questions and a view of the prospects of the future
  • 1. Facts and figures, important to find right answers
  • 1.1. Excursus: Suicide and euthanasia in history, the lasting roots
  • 1.2. Present knowledge about human life and death in natural science and psychology in a nutshell
  • 1.3. Causes of suicide and euthanasia
  • 1.4. Suicide, euthanasia, and age
  • 1.5. Dutch numbers of suicide in relation to some other countries
  • 1.6. Suicide by gender
  • 1.7. Methods of taking one’s own life
  • 2. Suicide, and euthanasia, right, and law
  • 2.1. The Dutch Constitution
  • 2.2. Human diversity, human dignity, and the need of self-determination
  • 2.3. The German Constitution, human dignity, and an unwritten right on self-determination
  • 2.3.1. The German Constitution
  • 2.3.2. The judgment of the German Federal Constitutional Court on § 217 German Criminal Law
  • 2.3.3. Two German draft-bills on suicide and suicide assistance
  • 2.4. Summing-up
  • 3. Taking one’s own Life, Dementia, and Human Dignity
  • 4. Outlook
  • 4.1. Dutch public opinion and the Cooperation Last Will
  • 4.2. Forward-looking in Jurisprudence
  • 4.3. Waiting for the legislator
  • Part 4 Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Some other publications of the same author (until 2021)

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The word “euthanasia” has its roots in a combination of the old Greek “eu” (good), and “thanatos” (death). “Suicide” has Latin roots and is a combination of “sui” (oneself) and “caedere” (hit, kill).

Some observations about euthanasia in ancient times are an adequate starting point as this manuscript was primarily written for a summer course in Thessaloniki and those ancient ideas about euthanasia are still of interest for our present discussions.

In those old days, the “good” death in Greece primarily had the meaning of dying nobly and manlike, the proper sense being passing away on the battlefield1 and not, or at least much less, to escape from unbearable pain and sufferings.

Euthanasia was accepted as a possibility to take the honorable way and to save one’s face, as something that was recognized as brave and heroic. It was also a manner for crowning one’s life and therefore not the same for all people. Emperors, heroes, and philosophers were choosing their own model of euthanatein which means to die honorably.2

Some examples are as follows: About Meander it was reported that he used the word euthanatos for a death without a long time of illness, thus a relatively quick death. For Socrates (469–399 B.C.) the right preparation for death after a responsible life belonged to euthanasia,3 while for Seneca one had to pass away when signs of loosing one’s dignity appear. By choosing euthanasia you prove yourself.4

In the Roman period euthanatein was primarily a passing away mildly and without pain. In Latin euthanasia was “mors voluntaria”, thus stressing the will of the actor. About the famous Emperor Augustus was reported that every time he heard that somebody died without pain, he wished a similar death for himself and his family.5

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The old Greeks already had different answers concerning the question whether men have the right to commit euthanasia or not.

According to the oath of Hippocrates (460–370 B.C.), the Greek physician who established medicine as a profession and is seen as the Father of Modern Medicine, nobody may hand any death-causing medicine to a person even not if he or she asks for it, and Plato (427–347 B.C.) stated that men are God’s soldiers who have to stay on their duty until “God” calls them, but also meant that ill people who miss vital energy should no longer be treated. Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) based the obligation to live on a duty toward community, argued, however, that it is ethically sound to practice euthanasia in the interest of the state, for example, one should not invest in the bringing up of invalids. For Pythagoras, denying the duty to live was a rebellion against the gods. In classical Greek tragedies, however, those who committed suicide were often characterized as heroes.

In ancient times, medical doctors just had to help their patients without asking questions as the prevailing opinion was that the physician’s acting was just a continuation of the will of the patient. As medical doctors often were slaves, there were hardly any problems with this view. The situation nowadays is totally different and makes it impossible to let a doctor fulfill your own will. According to Dutch classics scholar and cultural historian A. van Hooff,6 classical antiquity can teach us to overcome our fear and shame of death, and at the same time, the antique model of dying well offers us the concept of the fundamental right of self-determination we nowadays are missing.

February 2022

1 A. van Hooff, Euthanasie en zelfdoding in de klassieke oudheid, LEIF, interview on internet, 6-7-2010.

2 A. van Hooff, Euthanasie in de oudheid, “Ik rot weg in genot”, Historisch Nieuwsblad 1/2003.

3 De.wikipedia.org/wiki-geschichte der Euthanasie: Meander & Sokrates & Augustus.

4 A. van Hooff, see above.

5 Suetonius, The Life of Augustus. Oxford 2014.

6 A. van Hooff, see above.

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Part 1 The development of Euthanasia and Law from the beginning until 2017

1. The development of the legal regulation, its practice, and a new draft bill

1.1. The development until the introduction of the Dutch Law on Euthanasia 2001

Before we can focus on the Dutch legal regulations on euthanasia, we have to say something about (1) the terminology, (2) about special Dutch Penal Law provisions that offer possibilities to handle problems that occur in society in the legal sphere at least partly without necessarily amending or changing the law and (3) about the developments in legal practice and society that finally led to the introduction of the legal regulation presently in force.

1.2. Terminology

The Dutch Law on Euthanasia of the 12th of April 2001, in full: Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedure) Act7 came into force on the 1st of April 2002. It was worldwide the first law that regulates euthanasia. Similar laws came into force shortly after in Belgium and in Luxemburg.

The definition for euthanasia in the Dutch Law on Euthanasia8 reads:

Euthanasia is the intentional termination of the life of another person on this person’s request.

This definition is also used by the Belgian legislator. It focusses only on the so-called active euthanasia.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 140 pp., 1 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Irene Sagel-Grande (Author)

Irene Sagel-Grande studied German Law, Jurisprudence and Criminology at Hamburg University and took her PhD at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany. From 1973 to 1976 she was attached to Amsterdam University as co- editor of “Justiz und NS- Verbrechen”, a publication of German criminal judgements between 1945 and 1966 on National Socialist culpable homicide. Then she studied Dutch Law and Criminology at Free University Amsterdam, from where she graduated in 1981. After many years as Associate Professor in the Department of Penal Law and Criminology, as well as in the Department for Legal History, Private International Law and Comparative Private Law at Leiden University, she was appointed to the Department Hanse Law School of Groningen University that offered the possibility to study Dutch and German Law at the same time with exam recognition in both countries during several years.


Title: Taking one’s own Life
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142 pages