This week, the Dutch government announced plans to allow doctors to terminate the lives of terminally ill children under the age of 13, a decision that is bound to spark a debate over doctor-assisted death.
The Netherlands already allows doctors to facilitate the death of people over the age of 12 or less, if their parents have agreed.
In a letter to parliament on Tuesday, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jong proposed to expand the law to include children who die and suffer between the ages of 1 and 12.
“In a small number of cases, palliative care is insufficient,”; Mr de Jong wrote. “Because of this, some children suffer unnecessarily, with no hope of improvement.”
He estimated that the measure would affect about five to ten children each year.
Doctors in the Netherlands have expressed concern that they could be prosecuted if they help end the lives of “terminally ill” children between the ages of 1 and 12, as the law does not provide for children of this age who are expected to die quickly. .
Under current law, a doctor can put an end to a child under the age of 1 with the consent of the child’s parents if the child suffers “unbearable and hopeless suffering,” Mr. de Jong wrote.
According to him, the new regulations will provide greater transparency for doctors.
Three other European countries – Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland – allow medical deaths, although the laws vary from country to country. Belgium allows children to die with the help of a doctor, but in Luxembourg the law is restricted to adults with incurable medical conditions.
Canada, parts of Australia and Colombia have also legalized adult-assisted deaths in certain cases.
In the Netherlands, the parliament does not need to vote for a new resolution, as it will be taken into account in the existing law, – said in a letter to Mr. de Jong.
However, the parliamentary majority is expected to agree to the changes, which will take several months to complete, said a spokesman for Mr de Jong.
“This is a very difficult and sad question,” Mr de Jong told the Dutch broadcaster NOS on Tuesday.
According to Dr. Ira Böck, a palliative care physician and director of the Providence Institute for Human Care, developments in the Netherlands are a worrying example of the growing dependence on medical death to address health problems rather than finding compassionate ways to help people cope with pain and suffering.
“We can always manage someone’s physical suffering,” he said. “We can always provide medications that are suitable for general anesthesia and allow someone to die gently – to sleep for the rest of their lives.”
Dr. Bock said he was concerned about growing calls in the United States to use euthanasia to help adults with degenerative diseases end their lives.
“When suffering patients are seen as problems that need to be fixed, rather than as whole people to be cared for, we are set on a situation that is detrimental to the profession and to our society at large,” he said.
Dr. Bayok added: “We are all on this slippery slope.”
Eight states and Washington, D.C., have laws that allow mentally competent adults with incurable disease and live six months or less to get prescription drugs that will speed their death, according to Death With Dignity, an Oregon-based nonprofit that supports such laws.
The new language in Dutch law could create “pressure in the United States to try to expand our conservative policies to include people who cannot agree but are terminally ill and adults,” said Arthur Kaplan, a professor of medical ethics at New York University in Langon. Medical centre.
But he expressed doubts that the United States would follow the example of the Netherlands, where people with mental illness are allowed to end their lives with the help of doctors.
Americans have less faith in their medical system than Dutch people, who are more likely to trust doctors when they say their health is hopeless, Professor Kaplan said.
The Netherlands is a “small country,” he said. “Doctors and patients know each other very well, and access to health care is pretty good.”
Professor Kaplan added: “In the United States, we have a significant proportion of people who do not have access to proper health care, which means more mistrust.”