Dutch legalise mercy killing

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Sat Dec 2 05:16:14 MST 2000


Thursday
30 November 2000

Dutch legalise mercy killing
THE HAGUE: The Netherlands, where so-called mercy killings have been
tolerated for decades, became the first country on Tuesday to vote to
legalise euthanasia.
The parliament's lower chamber voted 104 to 40 to approve a bill allowing
doctors to help patients die under a strict set of rules.
Upper chamber approval next year is seen as a formality.
The bill's supporters, including many doctors, say it champions patients'
rights and brings a long-standing practice into the open, but many religious
and medical groups were swift to condemn it, claiming killing would replace
caring.
"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.
Dutch Calvinist opposition parties fear the proposed law will 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.
The Dutch bill moves the legal goalposts on a controversial and emotional
issue that ranks alongside abortion.
Australia's Northern Territory legalised medically assisted suicide for
terminally ill patients in 1996, but this was later overturned.
Other countries, such as Colombia and Switzerland have ruled that it is not
a crime to help a terminally ill person to die as long as they have given
clear and precise consent.
While the Swiss outlaw active euthanasia, there is leeway for doctors to
assist in suicides where they give patients lethal drugs but then leave them
to administer them.
Others, such as Denmark and Singapore and parts of the United States, Canada
and Australia, give patients the right to refuse life-prolonging treatment.
A series of court rulings and government guidelines since the 1970s gave
Dutch doctors room to help patients die, but the criminal code was never
amended, leaving them open to prosecution for murder.
The new law sets strict conditions, demanding adult patients facing a future
of continuous and unbearable suffering must make a voluntary,
well-considered and lasting request to die.
The doctor must have informed patients about their prospects, reached the
firm conclusion that there was no reasonable alternative and consulted a
second physician.
A leading proponent of the bill, 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
formalised in law mercy killing procedures used by doctors for 20 years.
The lawyer for Jack Kevorkian, jailed by U.S. authorities last year for
assisting a terminally ill person's suicide, 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.
But the Dutch Roman Catholic Church said it would now be too easy for people
to give up. About 34 percent of the Dutch are Catholics, 25 percent
Protestant and 36 percent not affiliated with any church.
"People who are ill but consider themselves a burden to their family, that's
the problem," said Peter van Zoest, spokesman for the Bishops Conference.
"...The Netherlands is the first country to legalise euthanasia since the
Nazis," Monika Schweihoff, a doctor at the German hospital foundation, said
in a statement. "Euthanasia is not the only option -- qualified hospice
staff can also help terminally ill patients slip away painlessly."
Steve Taylor, a lawyer and sociology lecturer at The London School of
Economics and Political Science, said he believed in the right to die, but
was concerned that economic and social pressures could lead to abuse of the
law.
"The right to die is, in my view, perfectly acceptable but I worry that the
right to die could become translated into a duty to die. That is a key
issue," he told Reuters.
Recent figures show that Dutch doctors helped 2,216 patients, mostly cancer
victims, to die in 1999, but it is estimated that some 60 percent of cases
are not reported.
A 1998 poll commissioned by the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society showed 92
percent of Dutch people backed mercy killing, although one in 10 general
practitioners was opposed. (Reuters)
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