Netherlands moves to allow assisted suicide for the elderly

The country was the first in the world to legalise euthanasia for the severely ill. Now, its government wants to broaden the law to older people even if they are not sick.

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Last year some 5,516 people died through euthanasia in the country – 3.9 percent of all registered deaths.

Members of the Dutch government have called for allowing elderly people who feel that they have had enough of life to undertake assisted suicide.

However, the proposal has triggered a heated debate in the Netherlands, which is considered to be one of the most liberal countries in the world.

In 2002, the Netherlands, alongside Belgium, became one of the first countries to make euthanasia legal with a law named the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act. Now the country is again moving in an uncharted direction.

"People who believe after deep reflection that they have completed their lives should be able under strict conditions to end their lives in the dignified manner they choose," the Dutch health and justice ministers said in a joint letter sent to parliament on Wednesday.

Dutch Minister of Heath, Welfare and Sport Edith Schippers (right), Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher (left), and Prime Minister Mark Rutte chat during a meeting.

But several political parties slammed the idea and many Dutch people were troubled, raising fears over what might happen to "vulnerable, lonely and desperate" people.

The Socialist Party warned such a law could lead to "pressure on elderly people, who will feel that they are a burden on their community."

Christian groups also criticised the proposed law in strong terms, rejecting the idea that euthanasia could be defined as an individual choice.

Gert-Jan Segers – leader of the Christian Union Party – was one critic. He said that assisted suicide has wide effects on the whole of society, The New York Times reported on Thursday, citing Dutch daily de Volkskrant

There is considerable opposition to the Dutch government's proposal to legalise euthanasia for the elderly. Picture: protesters against assisted suicide gather during a silent demonstration.

The proposed law does not define a threshold age for those who want to die through assisted suicide. 

This contrasts with the Netherlands’ 2002 euthanasia law, which only allows assisted suicide under strict conditions. A minimum of two doctors must certify that there is no other reasonable solution for the patient. In addition, their suffering should also be "unbearable and without any hope of improvement."

Last year some 5,516 people died through euthanasia in the country – 3.9 percent of all registered deaths.

More than 70 percent of those who opted to end their lives in this way suffered from cancer, while some 2.9 percent had dementia or psychiatric illnesses. It was a notable increase from the 3,136 deaths by euthanasia registered in 2010.

The Dutch government hopes to put forward a draft law, in consultation with doctors, ethicists, and other experts, by the end of 2017.

TRTWorld and agencies