X-Message-Number: 15043
From: <>
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2000 20:07:27 +0100 (CET)
Subject: Dutch Approve Law on euthanasia


Tuesday November 28 11:49 AM ET
Dutch Approve Law on Mercy Killings, Protests Start 

By Eric Onstad

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Netherlands, which has turned a blind eye to
so-called mercy killings for decades, took a decisive step on Tuesday
toward being the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia.

The lower chamber of parliament voted 104 to 40 to approve a bill
allowing doctors to help patients die under strict conditions.

The law is expected to be put to a vote in the upper chamber next
year. Approval there is seen as a formality.

Australia's Northern Territory legalized medically assisted suicide
for terminally ill patients in 1996, but repealed the law the
following year.

Supporters of the Dutch bill, including many doctors, say it champions
patients' rights and brings a long-standing practice into the
open. But the vote in parliament touched off a storm of protest.

``Again, we are faced with a law of the state which opposes the
natural law of human conscience,'' Vatican spokesman Joaquin
Navarro-Valls told Reuters.

Opponents in the Netherlands, including small Calvinist opposition
parties, say they fear the proposed law could be abused. Some drew
parallels with Nazi Germany.

``The same line of reasoning is being used as in Germany in 1935...In
the Netherlands, your life is no longer safe,'' said Bert Dorenbos of
the Scream for Life group.

``If doctors are not hesitating to kill people then they will not
hesitate to withdraw medical treatment from people they do not like,''
he added.

Leeway, But No Law

A series of court rulings and government guidelines since the 1970s
has given more leeway to Dutch doctors to help a patient die, but the
criminal code was never amended.

That gray area left open the possibility of doctors being prosecuted
for murder.

The new law sets out strict guidelines, demanding that adult patients
must make a voluntary, well-considered and lasting request to die and
face a future of continuous and unbearable suffering.

The doctor must have informed patients about their prospects and
reached the firm conclusion there was no reasonable alternative. A
second physician must be consulted.

Sensitive to the controversy surrounding the law, the justice ministry
warned that any doctors who did not follow the rules would be subject
to prosecution.

The Dutch Roman Catholic Church said the law would make it too easy
for people to give up.

``People who are ill but consider themselves a burden to their family,
that's the problem,'' said Peter van Zoest, spokesman for the Bishops

The main opposition Christian Democrats (CDA) and smaller Calvinist
parties also opposed the law.

A doctor at the German hospice foundation said the Dutch plan was

``...The Netherlands is the first country to legalize euthanasia since
the Nazis,'' Monika Schweihoff said in a statement. ``Euthanasia is
not the only option -- qualified hospice staff can also help
terminally ill patients slip away painlessly.''

Some Applaud The Bill

A leading proponent, the Liberal D66 party, applauded the vote as an
important step forward.

``This is for people who are in great pain and have no prospect for
recovery. These people want to die in a humane way, in a respectful
way,'' parliamentary leader Thom DeGraaf told Reuters Television.

The Royal Dutch Medical Association also supported the bill, saying it
formalized in law mercy killing procedures used by doctors for 20

The lawyer for Jack Kevorkian, jailed by U.S. authorities last year
for assisting a terminally ill person to die, said he was happy about
the Dutch action.

``He's very pleased that the law has been enacted in the Netherlands
for assisted suicide and feels that such a law, of course, is humane
and that it's appropriate under the proper guidelines,'' Mayer
Morganroth told Reuters.

He said Kevorkian, now 72, believes that within the next three to five
years assisted suicide will start to be allowed under laws in the
United States.

The most recent figures from euthanasia organizations show Dutch
doctors helped 2,216 patients to die in 1999 through euthanasia or
assisted suicide -- in which the physician supplies the drugs but does
not administer them.

About 90 percent of the cases were cancer victims.

The actual numbers are believed to be much higher since about 60
percent of cases are not reported.

A highly controversial clause allowing children as young as 12 to
choose to die, even if their parents disagreed, was dropped earlier
this year. Children aged 12 to 16 can only ask for help to die with
parental consent.

A 1998 poll commissioned by the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society
indicated that 92 percent of Dutch people supported mercy killing,
although some 10 percent of general practitioners were opposed.

(additional reporting by Karen Iley, Heleen van Geest, Berlin and New
York bureaux)

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