On April 10, 2003, the Groningen courts made the first conviction of a Dutch citizen who is not a practising doctor for assisting a suicide. Mr Willem Muns who works for Stichting De Einder Noord (a society that offers support and information to persons considering voluntary euthanasia) was given a six-months suspended sentence and two years probation (He had spent 50 days in jail before the court-case).
Mr Muns was found guilty of providing a woman with a ‘shopping list’ of the medication and plastic bag necessary for suicide, being present at her death, and putting the plastic bag within her reach. He was also found guilty of giving her specific information on how to fasten the plastic bag around her head using an elastic band. The prosecution accused Mr Muns of helping to tighten the bag with his own hands (there are doubts about how she could have done this herself, because she was paralysed in one arm). Mr Muns denies this charge, and says he only demonstrated how to do it.
The Groningen verdict poses a real danger to the current possibilities of the NVVE support service. Under previous case-law it was only illegal to provide assistance at the time of death but under this latest ruling, a person could be convicted for assisting suicide long before the death occurs. Already the NVVE support service have had to modify their practices: they have to be careful to give out general advice only, and under no circumstances are they allowed to attend a suicide.
Mr Muns is appealing against his conviction. Because of the way the Groningen verdict has impacted on the work of NVVE, NVVE are providing complete financial support for his appeal. The date of Mr Muns’ appeal is not yet known.
Jan Piet Hein Donner, the Minister for Justice, has announced his intention to investigate the activities of Stichting De Einder Noord to ensure they are operating within the legal limits of the Euthanasia law. Mr Donner’s decision follows questions by Christian groups concerning the conduct of the society.