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Sociol Health Illn. 2006 Sep;28(6):802-16.

Explaining the emergence of euthanasia law in the Netherlands: how the sociology of law can help the sociology of bioethics.

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RUG, Vakgroep Rechtstheorie, The Netherlands.


The debate over the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia is most often seen to be the result of three changes in society: individualisation, diminished taboos concerning death and changes in the balance of power in medicine. The fact that these changes occurred in many western countries but led to legalisation in only a few makes this claim problematic. I examine whether socio-legal propositions, with respect to the emergence of laws which focus on social control, offer a better approach to understanding the development of rules allowing and governing euthanasia. After a short sketch of the history of the Dutch law regulating euthanasia, I discuss these three societal changes in the light of shifts in the social control of medical behaviour that shortens life. I show that the Dutch relaxation of the prohibition of euthanasia goes together with new forms of social control: doctors' self control is complemented with second-party control (by patients), professional third-party control and governmental control. My work calls attention to the fact that bioethics is part of larger systems of social control.

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