Dutch may allow assisted
suicide for those who feel life is over
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[October 13, 2016]
By Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government
intends to draft a law that would legalize assisted suicide for people
who feel they have "completed life," but are not necessarily terminally
ill, it said on Wednesday.
The Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia, in
2002, but only for patients who were considered to be suffering
unbearable pain with no hope of a cure.
In a letter to parliament, the health and justice ministers said
details remain to be worked out but that people who "have a
well-considered opinion that their life is complete, must, under
strict and careful criteria, be allowed to finish that life in a
manner dignified for them."
The proposal is likely to provoke critics who say Dutch euthanasia
practice has already expanded beyond the borders originally
envisioned for it, with "unbearable suffering" not only applying to
people with terminal diseases, but also to some with mental
illnesses and dementia.
The euthanasia policy has widespread backing in Dutch society, and
cases have risen by double digits every year for more than a decade
as more patients request it and more doctors are willing to carry it
out. Euthanasia accounted for 5,516 deaths in the Netherlands in
2015, or 3.9 percent of all deaths nationwide.
Health Minister Edith Schippers wrote in the letter that "because
the wish for a self-chosen end of life primarily occurs in the
elderly, the new system will be limited to" them.
She did not define a threshold age.
The new law will require "careful guidance and vetting ahead of time
with a 'death assistance provider' with a medical background, who
has also been given additional training."
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Other aspects of the law as she envisions it will include safety
mechanisms including third-party checks, reviews and supervision.
The proposal comes as a surprise, as a commission enlisted to study
the idea of allowing a "completed life" extension to current policy
concluded there was no need for it.
The ministers disagreed. "The Cabinet is of the opinion that a
request for help (in dying) from people who suffer unbearably and
have no hope without an underlying medical reason can be a
They hope to draft a law, in consultation with doctors, ethicists
and other experts, by the end of 2017.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Bill
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