Officials in the Netherlands are expanding the availability of “life termination” for children between one and twelve years of age.
The European nation will soon permit doctors to euthanize children deemed to have conditions which will lead to “hopeless and unbearable suffering,” according to an announcement from the Dutch government released earlier this month. Officials claimed that the new policy only concerns “a small group of terminally ill children” whose “palliative care options are not sufficient to relieve their suffering and who are expected to die in the foreseeable future.”
“This is a very complex subject that deals with very harrowing situations. Situations you wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said in the announcement. “I am pleased that, after intensive consultation with all parties involved, we have come to a solution with which we can help these terminally ill children, their parents and also their practitioners.”
The new policy also seeks to loosen requirements for physicians who attempt to euthanize children since they already “feel reluctance to perform late termination of pregnancy or termination of life in newborns.”
The government formerly required doctors to demonstrate before a committee that the administration of assisted suicide occurred with “due care,” after which the committee sent the assessment to the Public Prosecution Service, where officials would decide whether to initiate a criminal investigation. Officials will now consolidate the committee process and forward the case to the Public Prosecution Service without medical files, meaning that the agency must base any criminal investigation “exclusively on the judgment of the assessment committee.”
Physicians must therefore “come to the conviction that termination of life is the only reasonable alternative to remove the child’s hopeless and unbearable suffering” based upon “prevailing medical opinion.”
The announcement from the Dutch government did not specify what role parents of the children play in determining whether euthanasia will be administered. Current law allows children to request euthanasia from the age of twelve, even as parental consent is mandatory until the age of sixteen.
Legislative allowances for assisted suicide, sometimes called medical assistance in dying and abbreviated as MAID, has quickly expanded within Western nations. Canada, for instance, considered amendments to the nation’s criminal code last year that would increase the availability of the practice such that a citizen with only a “mental illness” can now request euthanasia, whereas the practice was previously limited to people with serious physical illnesses or disabilities. “You do not need to have a fatal or terminal condition to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” according to a webpage published by the Canadian government.
Although the new legislation does not explicitly allow minors to pursue assisted suicide, the Canadian government says that “children’s decision-making about health care issues occurs within a complicated legal framework.” The doctrine of the “mature minor,” for example, “allows children who are sufficiently mature to make their own treatment decisions.” Statutes related to parental consent and mature minor status vary between provinces.
Critics of assisted suicide note that governments with socialized medicine have clear incentives to promote the practice rather than funding treatment for certain patients, thereby ignoring the innate value of human beings and their fundamental right to life.
Death with Dignity, an organization which pushes for expanded assisted suicide in the United States, claims that the practice ensures “people with terminal illness can decide for themselves what a good death means in accordance with their values and beliefs.” Authorities in the state of Oregon, which ranks among the most liberal with respect to assisted suicide laws but does not permit minors to be euthanized, said in a report that 431 people received lethal doses of medication prescribed by physicians last year.