An end-of-life clinic in the Netherlands has launched the nation's first mobile euthanasia units designed to carry out the death wishes of patients whose doctors refuse to perform the procedure, the Agence France-Presse reports.
In 2002 the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia when it passed the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act.
"From Thursday, [the life-end clinic] Levenseindekliniek will have mobile teams where people who think they comply with the criteria for euthanasia can register," Walburg de Jong, a spokesman for the group Right-To-Die Netherlands (NVVE), told the AFP. "If they comply, the teams will carry out the euthanasia at patients' homes should their normal doctors refuse to help them."
Proponents of the new program say it will help carry out the increasing number of requests for euthanasia and help address the needs of people who may be overlooked by strict regulations, according to the Daily Mail.
The number of euthanasia cases in the Netherlands rose 19 percent in 2010 with a total of 3,136 cases, the Guardian reports. Right-To-Die Netherlands, which receives around 1,000 requests per year, said it has already been contacted by 70 patients interested in the new mobile euthanasia units.
But critics of the mobile units say the service may result in deaths of patients who could be treated if they continued going to doctors.
"In the worst cases, people could die who perhaps could have received some other help," a spokesman for the Federation of Dutch Physicians told the Daily Mail.
Eric van Wijlick of the Royal Dutch Society of Doctors told Sky News that requests for euthanasia must be handled by doctors who have developed a long-term relationship with the patient and have a full understanding of their case.
"We are not against euthanasia if there is no other alternative. But euthanasia is a complicated process. It comes from the long-time treatment of a patient based on a relationship of trust. A holistic view of the patient's treatment needs to be taken, including whether another alternative to euthanasia exists.We have serious doubts whether this can be done by a doctor who is only focused on performing euthanasia."
Correction: This article previously suggested that the mobile units would be used by patients who are mentally ill or suffer from severe dementia, which could not be confirmed with multiple sources, and that reference has been removed.