Proposed Dutch Law to Expand Assisted Suicide Beyond Illness
Dutch government officials have proposed a new law that would allow elderly people who are considered physically and psychologically healthy to choose to end their lives via assisted suicide.1
Health and justice ministers wrote to members of parliament on Wednesday, arguing that elderly individuals “who have a well-considered opinion that their life is complete must, under strict and careful criteria, be allowed to finish that life in a manner dignified for them.”1,2
No stranger to progressive and ethically disputed legislation, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize both assisted suicide and euthanasia in 2002 under the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act.2,3 However, the current necessities for qualifying are highlighly regulated, with assisted suicide and euthanasia only available to patients suffering from “unbearable” and “hopeless” illness as determined by at least two physicians.1,3 This policy applies not only to people suffering from terminal illnesses but chronic mental illness and dementia as well, producing criticism and debate among other countries about the ethical limits of assisted death.2
In 2015, there was a reported total of 5,516 assisted deaths in the Netherlands, making up 3.9% of deaths nationwide.2 This number has steadily increased year to year, and if Dutch policy changes to allow for more senior citizens to choose their deaths, this trend will likely grow.
The new proposal would alter the currently-existing statute, expanding assisted suicide beyond cases of intolerable illness to include the healthy elderly population, the age group that most desires a self-chosen termination of life, according to Dutch ministers.4 In their letter to parliament, ministers argued that senior citizens can have a legitimate death wish even if they are not terminally ill, with Minister Edith Schippers of Public Health noting that “their request for assisted suicide is their right to autonomy.”4
Still, despite this potential expansion to current policy, the new law would require careful background checks and additional training for the assisting physician.2 Additionally, the patient in question must undergo counselling sessions with their physician, with several conversations about the decision taking place to ensure that there are no outside influences acting upon the patient’s decision.4
The proposed changes are also not meant to be used to help senior citizens who have temporary or treatable problems. “It should not involve lonely or depressed people. Not for people with problems you can solve in a different way,” Schippers clarified on the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur.4 Instead, the new law is an attempt to provide relief to elderly people who feel incurably trapped in their lives, wanting to die but unable to do so under current policy.
Due to the sensitive nature of the proposed law, the Dutch parliament plans to consult ethicists, doctors, and other experts on the topic. Officials anticipate a draft of the law to be ready by the end of 2017, which, if passed, will make the Netherlands the first country to permit assisted suicide for certain individuals without a classified physical or mental illness.2
Chris Weller, “The Netherlands could legalize assisted suicide for healthy people who feel life is over,” Business Insider, published October 13, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/dutch-assisted-suicide-law-2016-10.
“Netherlands may extend assisted dying to those who feel 'life is complete’,” The Guardian, published October 12, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/13/netherlands-may-allow-assisted-dying-for-those-who-feel-life-is-complete.
“Euthanasia, assisted suicide and non-resuscitation on request,” Government.nl, accessed October 14, 2016, https://www.government.nl/topics/euthanasia/contents/euthanasia-assisted-suicide-and-non-resuscitation-on-request.
Janene Pieters, “Euthanasia an Option for People who Lived ‘Full Lives’; Dutch Cabinet, MPS Support Plan,” NL Times, published October 13, 2016, http://www.nltimes.nl/2016/10/13/euthanasia-an-option-for-people-who-lived-full-lives-dutch-cabinet-mps-support-plan/.