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Euthanasia legal for tinnitus in Netherlands, Parliament hears

An expert in euthanasia law in the Netherlands confirmed to MPs on Tuesday that there has been at least one case of someone being euthanised under Dutch law because they had tinnitus.

During the third oral evidence session of the UK Health and Social Care Select Committee’s (HSCSC) inquiry into assisted suicide, MPs heard testimonies from six experts concerning euthanasia laws in Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium. In each jurisdiction, euthanasia is permitted for those who are not terminally ill.

During one series of questions, Lucy Allan, Conservative MP for Telford, asked Professor Irene Tuffrey-Wijne, Professor of Intellectual Disability and Palliative Care, Kingston University London, about whether tinnitus would be a reason for assisted suicide in the Netherlands. 

“Did you say… that tinnitus would be a reason for [assisted suicide or euthanasia] being granted in a Benelux [Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg] country?”

In response, Professor Tuffrey-Wijne confirmed that tinnitus would be a lawful reason for assisted suicide or euthanasia in the Netherlands and that it had in fact happened.

The professor did not describe the specific case or cases she was referring to, but she may have been referring to a 2015 incident in which a 47-year-old Dutch woman was euthanised on account of her tinnitus.

There is no way of knowing if someone is “suffering unbearably”

Professor Tuffrey-Wijne continued by saying euthanasia and assisted suicide would be lawful under such conditions “because of the criteria around unbearable suffering … [I]f the patient says I’m suffering unbearably and there is no prospect of improving this because my tinnitus won’t be cured then … the patient needs to say whether the suffering is unbearable”.

“Of course, you don’t have to have the physician to agree that there is unbearable suffering and no prospect of improvement. But, yes, there doesn’t have to be an incurable disease like cancer in the Netherlands”.

She went on to add that whether or not suffering was truly unbearable can be a point of contention.

“There have been reports where there has been disagreement between the independent physician that you have to consult or the first physician says no … there’s been disagreements but the scrutiny from the euthanasia review committees takes the testimony from the physician who carries out the euthanasia and asks their opinion and they would be the person who has agreed with the patient that the suffering is unbearable”.

In the Netherlands, there were 8,720 cases of euthanasia in 2022, accounting for 5.1% of all deaths in the country. And yet, the government has recently announced plans to follow Belgium in permitting euthanasia for children of all ages.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “As shocking as Professor Tuffrey-Wijne’s testimony is, as she says, this is a consequence of the law. ‘Unbearable suffering’ is not something for which there can be any objective criteria. It is entirely subjective and opens the door to euthanasia for almost any reason because there are no medical means to know if a person is really suffering in this way or not.”

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You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

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