The Netherlands are one of the few countries in the world which allow compassionate euthanasia for the incurably ill. It is legal for those older than 12, including children with parental and patient consent, and for infants under one year with parental consent, but until now, there’s always been a significant gap for children old enough to be considered aware yet too young for informed consent.
After months of debate, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge announced on Tuesday, October 13, that the Dutch government has approved plans to alter the rules and close that gap.
De Jonge said in a letter to parliament during the debate that an expert study had shown “that there is a need for active termination of life among doctors and parents of incurably ill children, who are suffering hopelessly and unbearably and will die within the foreseeable future.” The study also showed that between 5 and 10 children a year would be affected by the rule change.
To qualify, as with older sufferers, a patient must meet the qualification of “unbearable and endless suffering,” and at least two doctors and any parents or legal guardians must be in agreement. The current ruling is not technically a change in the law, but a protection from prosecution for those carrying out an approved euthanasia on a child.
Currently, active euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in Europe, Canada and Columbia in the Americas, and the state of Western Australia. Assisted suicide, which is similar but has key differences, is legal in several more countries and 8 U.S. states. Germany just overturned their ban on assisted suicide in February of this year.
Proponents stand on the platform that death with dignity should be a human right, along with freedom of choice and freedom from pain.