New Legislation Would Legalize Euthanasia in the Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- September 1999 -- Although euthanasia has been practiced under strict guidelines in the Netherlands since the late 1980s, it remains technically against the law. Now, new legislation before Parliament could legalize it outright.

The bill has strong support and could be approved as early as next year, now that the Health Ministry has agreed to drop a controversial provision that would have allowed terminally ill children age 12 and older to request assisted suicide even if their parents object.

Although pro-life groups and Dutch churches oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide - and waged a fierce campaign against the child euthanasia provision - there are no signs the traditionally strong support for euthanasia among the Dutch has eroded. Past surveys have shown more than 90 percent believe assisted suicide should be an option.

Not everyone who seeks euthanasia receives approval, and legalization wouldn't change that.

Guidelines set by Parliament in 1993 and incorporated in the new legislation require a candidate to be suffering irremediable and unbearable pain, to be aware of all other medical options, to seek a second opinion and to make a persistent, voluntary and informed request for euthanasia. Doctors aren't allowed to suggest it as an option.

Of the nearly 35,000 requests made each year, physicians assist in about 9,700 patient deaths, usually with a lethal injection, according to a 1995 study of euthanasia in the Netherlands published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors have reported only about half those cases, and supporters of legalization say one benefit would be better regulation and documentation.

However, pro-life critics fear it will promote euthanasia as a regular form of medical treatment and increase the chances of abuse. Some worry that medical institutions could promote mercy killing as a means to cut costs and lighten doctors' workloads.

"This is the first time a specific group of the population is legally freed from prosecution for murder," an anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia group known as Scream for Life said in a statement.

Source: Pro-Life Infonet

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