Dutch Hope Euthanasia Law Will Prompt Debate
THE HAGUE (Reuters, April 10) – Policymakers and pro-euthanasia groups in the Netherlands voiced the hope that Tuesday’s landmark decision to legalize mercy-killing will encourage discussion on the controversial issue elsewhere
The country’s upper house of parliament defied thousands of protesters and voted by a clear majority Tuesday to legalize euthanasia, the first country in the world to do so, bringing into law a practice that has been tolerated here for over two decades.
Demonstrators turned out in force earlier Tuesday to register their opposition to the bill, but most had headed home by the time of the vote — seen as a formality after the lower house overwhelmingly approved the bill last November — was taken.
“I hope other governments will find the courage to enter into similar debate,” said Health Minister Els Borst after the senate voted 46-28 to make euthanasia legal.
At present only Belgium has agreed on a draft law to legalize the practice, subject to parliamentary approval. The U.S. State of Oregon allows physician-assisted suicide.
“I feel glad because after 27 years we have finally achieved what we have been campaigning for,” Rob Jonquiere, managing director of the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society (DVES), told Reuters after the vote.
“But I feel sympathetic toward our sister organizations in other countries because I know they are campaigning as hard. I hope this will be a great support to them,” he added.
FIRST REACTION FROM ABROAD NEGATIVE
Early reaction from abroad, however, was negative.
Russian Health Minister, Yuri Shevchenko, interviewed by RTR state television, said the law would be wide open to abuse. “Imagine an ill, old man induced to die with his belongings and small apartment taken from him. This is a great sin and we must not allow it,” he said.
The Illinois-based “Not Dead Yet,” organization, a U.S. disability rights group, also condemned the action. “The Dutch experience with euthanasia is best described as one of increasing carelessness and callousness over the years,” it said in a statement.
An influential Roman Catholic bishop in Poland also spoke against the new law. “Euthanasia allowed in one sphere.., can slip out of control and embrace other groups of people — those unwanted and disabled,” said Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, former secretary general of Poland’s episcopate.
The Dutch believe legalizing euthanasia will clear up a fuzzy area of law which has left open the possibility of doctors being prosecuted for murder. Doctors will still face prosecution if they fail to follow strict rules. The new law insists adult patients must have made a voluntary, well-considered and lasting request to die, that they must face a future of unbearable suffering and that there must be no reasonable alternative. A second doctor must be consulted and life must be ended in a medically appropriate way.
“It must be stressed how careful this whole procedure is,” said Nicoline van den Broek Lamen Trip, leader of the liberal VVD party in the Senate which supported the bill.
The Netherlands has a history of tolerance. It recently became the first country to allow gay couples to legally marry and adopt children.
Jacob Kohnstamm, president of the DVES, said prior to the upper house ruling that he had received thousands of supportive letters and e-mails from as far afield as Britain, France, Belgium, Australia and the United States. “Someone has to be first. There’s nothing to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of… Within 25 years, most countries will have a euthanasia law,” he said.