Open Access Research article

News media coverage of euthanasia: a content analysis of Dutch national newspapers

Judith AC Rietjens1*, Natasja JH Raijmakers1, Pauline SC Kouwenhoven2, Clive Seale3, Ghislaine JMW van Thiel2, Margo Trappenburg4, Johannes JM van Delden2 and Agnes van der Heide1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, PO Box 2040, Rotterdam, 3000 CA, the Netherlands

2 Julius Center, University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands Huispost Str 6.131, Utrecht, postbus 85500 3508 GA, the Netherlands

3 Department of Sociology and Communications, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH, UK

4 Utrecht School of Governance, University of Utrecht, Bijlhouwerstraat 6, Utrecht, 3511 ZC, the Netherlands

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BMC Medical Ethics 2013, 14:11  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-14-11

Published: 6 March 2013



The Netherlands is one of the few countries where euthanasia is legal under strict conditions. This study investigates whether Dutch newspaper articles use the term ‘euthanasia’ according to the legal definition and determines what arguments for and against euthanasia they contain.


We did an electronic search of seven Dutch national newspapers between January 2009 and May 2010 and conducted a content analysis.


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.


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.

Euthanasia; Media; Content analysis