News media coverage of euthanasia: a content analysis of Dutch national newspapers Authors
Judith AC Rietjens, assistant professora
Natasja JH Raijmakers, junior researchera
Pauline SC Kouwenhoven, junior researcher, general practitionerb Clive Seale, professor of medical sociologyc
Ghilaine JMW van Thiel, assistant professorb
Margo Trappenburg, associate professord
Johannes JM van Delden, professor of medical ethicsb
Agnes van der Heide, associate professora
a. Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, PO Box 2040, 3000 CA Rotterdam, the Netherlands (email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com) b. Julius Center, University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands Huispost Str 6.131, postbus 85500 3508 GA Utrecht, the NL (P.S.C.Kouwenhoven@umcutrecht.nl, G.J.M.W.vanThiel@umcutrecht.nl, J.J.M.vanDelden@umcutrecht.nl) c. Department of Sociology and Communications, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH (firstname.lastname@example.org)
d. Utrecht School of Governance, University of Utrecht, Bijlhouwerstraat 6, 3511 ZC Utrecht, the Netherlands (M.J.Trappenburg@uu.nl)
Department of Public Health,
PO Box 2040,
3000 CA Rotterdam,
tel: 0031 10 7043056 / fax: 0021 10 7038474
Background: The Netherlands is one of the few countries where euthanasia is legal under strict conditions.
Aim: To investigate whether Dutch newspaper articles use the term ‘euthanasia’ according to the legal definition and to determine what arguments for and against euthanasia they contain. Design: We did an electronic search of seven Dutch national newspapers between January 2009 and May 2010 and conducted a content analysis.
Results: Of the 284 articles containing the term ‘euthanasia’, 24% referred to practices outside the scope of the law, mostly relating to the forgoing of life-prolonging treatments and assistance in suicide by others than physicians. Of the articles with euthanasia as the main topic, 36% described euthanasia in the context of a terminally ill patient, 24% for older persons, 16% for persons with dementia, and 9% for persons with a psychiatric disorder. The most frequent arguments for euthanasia included the importance of self-determination and the fact that euthanasia contributes to a good death. The most frequent arguments opposing euthanasia were that suffering should instead be alleviated by better care, that providing euthanasia can be disturbing, and that society should protect the vulnerable.
Conclusions: Of the newspaper articles, 24% uses the term ‘euthanasia’ for practices that are outside the scope of the euthanasia law. Typically, the more unusual cases are discussed. This might lead to misunderstandings between citizens and physicians. Despite the Dutch legalisation of euthanasia, the debate about its acceptability and boundaries is ongoing and both sides of the debate are clearly represented.
Keywords: euthanasia, media, content analysis
The role of medicine and society in addressing the needs of patients who suffer unbearably and who request for their life to be ended is frequently debated. In the Netherlands, euthanasia was a topic of debate for many decades, eventually resulting in the legal regulation of euthanasia and physicianassisted suicide . In several other countries, comparable regulation is in place or is currently being debated. These developments often yield emotional responses, and have given euthanasia and other life-ending practices, such as assisted suicide, a prominent place in news reporting. Dutch euthanasia law defines euthanasia as the intentional ending of a life by the administration of medication by a physician at the explicit request of a patient , a definition that has been broadly accepted and adopted in legal regulations in other countries and in research. It is...
References: van der Maas PJ, Pijnenborg L, van Delden JJ: Changes in Dutch opinions on active
euthanasia, 1966 through 1991
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