Intended for healthcare professionals


Els Borst-Eilers

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 25 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1917
  1. Tony Sheldon

Patient centred doctor and politician whose work led to the Netherlands’ progressive euthanasia legislation


Els Borst was never vague about her opinions—especially on medical ethics—but everyone agrees that she was always polite; never aggressive.

Convinced that the wishes of hopelessly suffering patients should be respected, she was proud to pass in 2001 the first national euthanasia law. The dignified and peaceful death she wished for others, however, was denied her. In February 2014 Borst, 81, was found dead at her home. Police believe she was murdered or a victim of manslaughter.

Borst grew up in a Jewish neighbourhood in Amsterdam during the second world war. She remembered her neighbours being rounded up, and being forced to watch public executions. Eventually evacuated suffering from malnutrition, the 13 year old daughter of a mattress factory director decided she would become a doctor. She did not want to stand by feeling powerless and guilty next time; she would help wounded people.

She studied medicine at Amsterdam University, qualifying in 1958, by which time she had met her husband, Jan Borst, one of several doctors from a medical family. She went on to juggle a career, study, and …

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