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Taking assisted suicide out of the criminal code in the Netherlands has created an “avalanche” of strict legal controls on how the Dutch can end their own lives with medical help, says a leading legal expert on euthanasia in Europe.

Dutch doctors who carry out assisted suicide face a deluge of official reviews and investigations that didn’t exist before the Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2002, said John Griffiths, professor of sociology and law at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Griffiths, speaking at Carleton University at a conference on physician-assisted suicide, said every doctor carrying out an assisted suicide must consult with a second doctor as well as be green-lighted by an independent review committee. In 2005, that committee looked over
2,883 cases to ensure all required conditions were met, including “unbearable suffering.”

Griffiths said it’s “very difficult” to get euthanasia in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium or the U.S. state of Oregon, jurisdictions where it’s legal.

“You can only get it if you are considered better educated, more with it or a Sue Rodriguez type,” said Griffiths, referring to the B.C. woman who fought unsuccessfully to have Canada’s assisted-suicide law struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993.

Opponents of the Dutch euthanasia law argue legalizing the right to die will prompt those who are elderly, poor and chronically ill to end their lives.

But in 2001, the overwhelming majority of the 3,800 Dutch people who had a doctor-assisted suicide were elderly, well-educated men in the final stages of cancer, said Griffiths, co-author of Euthanasia and the Law in the Netherlands.

“The whole question about discrimination against the vulnerable is, in practice, a non-issue,” said Griffiths.

Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in Oregon since 1997. According to the most recent statistics, 97% of those who took advantage of it were white, 92% had hospice care and 62% had some form of college education.

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