The Netherlands has said it will broaden its euthanasia regulations to allow doctors the ability to end the lives of terminally ill children between one and 12 years old.
The rule change involves the government adjusting an existing protocol, and does not require parliamentary approval.
The decision comes after years of requests from some Dutch doctors to lower the age limit of 12 for euthanasia, as well as debate within the cabinet.
According to the Dutch government, “The end of life for this [age] group is the only reasonable alternative to the child’s unbearable and hopeless suffering.”
“This is a very complex subject that deals with harrowing situations that you would not wish on anyone,” Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said.
“I am pleased that after intensive consultation with all parties involved, we have come to a solution with which we can help these terminally-ill children, their parents and also their practitioners.”
The new regulations would apply to terminally-ill children who are in unbearable pain from their disease, and for whom palliative care can’t bring relief. According to the Dutch Health Ministry, this would apply to “a small group of about five to 10 children” a year.
If the child can’t provide consent, euthanasia can still go ahead with the parents’ permission, in consultation with a doctor, Health ministry spokesman Axel Dees told AFP.
The World Medical Association in 1987 issued a declaration on euthanasia, which was reaffirmed in 2005, which reads: “Euthanasia, that is the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient, even at the patient’s own request or at the request of close relatives, is unethical. This does not prevent the physician from respecting the desire of a patient to allow the natural process of death to follow its course in the terminal phase of sickness.”
Many people remain opposed to euthanasia due to ethical concerns and/or religious convictions that views euthanasia as a violation of the sanctity of life, and that life is inherently valuable and should not be intentionally ended—even in suffering. Some have expressed concern that euthanasia could result in a desensitization to the value of human life.
Some have stated that euthanasia in actual practice “only gives doctors greater power and a license to kill.”
“Once the power to kill is bestowed on physicians, the inherent nature of the doctor/patient relationship is adversely affected. A patient can no longer be sure what role the doctor will play–healer or killer,” according to.the Patients Rights Council, an advocacy group in the United States.
With regard to euthanasia in children, concerns expressed by doctors and activists over the years include that making it legal for children could set a dangerous precedent that could result in further abuse or exploitation.
Concerns have also been expressed about the ability of children to make informed decisions about their own lives, and whether they may be susceptible to coercion or pressure from parents and/or their doctors.
Second Country to Allow Euthanasia For Young Children
The Netherlands in 2002 became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia. Belgium followed soon after, in the same year.
The latest changes in the Netherland are not unprecedented—Belgium in 2014 became the first country to pass legislation to allow euthanasia for young children, with their consent.
Euthanasia is currently subject to strict criteria in the Netherlands. The procedure allowed in infants younger than 12 months and children above 12—although they must obtain parental consent if they are under 16. Those between 16 and 18 must still involve parents in their decision.
In the Netherlands, all cases of euthanasia must be reported to medical review boards.
Doctors who carry out euthanasia are required to be convinced that the patient who requested assisted dying did so voluntarily, and that their suffering is unbearable, and has no chance of improvement.
In 2022, only one instance of euthanasia for a minor between 12 and 16 years old was reported in the Netherlands, figures from regional euthanasia review boards show.
Altogether, according to government figures, more than 8,720 people or 5.1 percent of total deaths were via euthanasia in the Netherlands in 2022—the majority (57.8 percent) of whom were reported to have been suffering from incurable cancer. This was an increase of 13.7 percent from the reported number of euthanasia deaths in 2021 at 7,666 reports.
Since euthanasia was first made legal, the number of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands has increased nearly fivefold (480.44 percent). In 2003, 1,815 deaths by euthanasia were recorded.
Melanie Sun and Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times