Denmark’s Ethics Council Advises Against the Legalisation of Assisted Dying

The Danish Ethics Council have published a new report following a comprehensive investigation into assisted dying during which they considered the two models of assisted dying seen in Oregon and the Netherlands. You can access the Danish National Centre for Ethics’ website and download the original report by clicking here. Alternatively, you can access a translated PDF of the report here.

The Council’s investigation was commissioned by the Danish Parliament’s Health Committee on 29th June 2023. The Council concluded that, “on the present basis, there are no members of the Ethics Council who find the Oregon model or the Dutch model sufficiently clear in their delineations, fair in their justifications for access, or sound in terms of control mechanisms”. On whether they would support the implementation of either Oregon or Dutch-style assisted dying in Denmark, “no member of the Ethics Council has wanted to recommend such a solution”.

The report is comprehensive and very balanced in its assessment of the issues that surround assisted dying, giving serious consideration to reasons both for and against. Access to palliative care and how it could work in conjunction with assisted dying was one of the topics discussed. Overall, “the members consider euthanasia to be in conflict with palliative care and are therefore against the legalization of euthanasia as long as we as a society have not exhausted the possibilities for relief.”

The report also addressed fears that the law could be expanded over time, allowing more people access to assisted dying than had originally been intended. Fundamentally, the Council posed the question, “what legislation has ever been able to guarantee that it could not be changed?”.

Additionally, the Council felt deeper changes to society would occur should assisted dying be legalised. “The very existence of an offer of euthanasia will decisively change our ideas about old age, the coming of death, quality of life and what it means to take others into account. If euthanasia becomes an option, there is too great a risk that it will become an expectation aimed at special groups in society.”

The Oregon and Dutch models of assisted dying are very different. Oregon’s laws are more limited in scope compared to the famously expansive Dutch laws. Having thoroughly examined two very different models of assisted dying that both pro and anti-assisted dying campaigners frequently refer to, the Council felt that it cannot be regulated in a satisfactory and safe manner.