February 19, 2008
After much debate, parliament voted in favour of the Err/Huss bill by 30 to 26 votes (3 abstentions). The bill had been narrowly defeated in 2002 by 2 votes (3 abstentions). Unlike previous votes, this year’s voting took place without party political constraints. Representatives were free to vote according to their conscience rather than according to party politics.
The new Err/Huss bill contains a significant amendment regarding the controlling commission for euthanasia. The original bill proposed a pre-euthanasia “clearing” commission consisting of a body of nine professionals – three doctors, three social workers and three representatives from the patients’ rights group . This has been amended to a post-euthanasia examining commission. The authors believe a pre-euthanasia examining commission would entail heavy administrative involvement before a final external decision on the patient’s wishes – defeating the very idea of “Self-determination”.
Similar bodies are used successfully in Belgium and Holland, two countries in which a decriminalised euthanasia has been practised for the last two years without the feared slippery slope of uncontrolled use of euthanasia.
“This bill is not a licence to kill”, said Lydie Err “it’s not a law for the parents or the doctors, but for the patient alone to decide if he wants to put an end to his suffering”
Under the new law, which is expected to come onto the statute books before the summer, doctors will have to consult with a colleague to confirm that the person is suffering from “ an incurable condition with unbearable suffering”, applicable to about 3-7% of terminally ill patients. No doctor can be forced to practice euthanasia, but must respect the patient’s Living Will and, if unwilling to comply, must hand the case over to a colleague prepared to act in accordance with the patient’s wishes.