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Dutch Government’s plans for legal aid in dying in case of completed life stirs emotions

Health Minister Edith Schippers has written a letter to the Dutch Parliament announcing her plan to legalize assisted suicide for older people who are generally healthy but feel they have led a full life. In defence of this proposal she writes: “It is needed to address the needs of older people who do not have the possibility to continue life in a meaningful way, who are struggling with the loss of independence and reduced mobility, and who have a sense of loneliness, partly because of the loss of loved ones, and who are burdened by general fatigue, deterioration and loss of personal dignity”.

This proposal has stirred up an ethical storm in some quarters: critics say the country has gone too far (even by only presenting the plan!) with a law that would allow people who are not suffering from a medical condition to seek assisted suicide if they feel they have “completed life”. Conversely proponents say that limiting assisted death to patients with (terminal) illnesses is no longer enough, and that older people have the right to end their lives with dignity, and when they so choose.

The letter said that the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte hoped to draft the law by the end of 2017 in consultation with doctors and ethicists. It stressed that the law needed to be applied with great care, including careful vetting of potential applicants by a ‘death assistance provider’ with a medical background.

(comm. RJ: it is not expected the bill will be brought in Parliament before March next year, when there will be elections. It has to seen if the current Parliamentary majority will be maintained; Christian parties – expected to be necessary to constitute a majority coalition – have already declared they will not cooperate)