Netherlands to expand euthanasia law, allowing doctors to end lives of children under 12

Unsplash/Daan Stevens
Unsplash/Daan Stevens

The Netherlands is set to pave the way for legalized euthanasia of very young children.

According to the NLTimes Tuesday, the northwestern European nation, which already has some of the most liberal euthanasia policies in the world, is likely to expand its law to permit children ages 1-12 to be euthanized in certain circumstances. The practice is already legal for youth 12 and older and was already possible for infants in their first year of life.

The expansion requires the child being euthanized to be terminally ill.

"Once death is in the driver’s seat, it never hits the brakes," commented scholar Wesley J. Smith of the Discovery Institute in a Tuesday National Review blog post, noting that he does not believe the "terminally ill" requirement will last and that the law is already murky enough given how pro-euthanasia doctors exploit the "gray area" in practice.

The Dutch outlet went on to describe how in the new policy doctors are only permitted to permanently sedate or withhold nutrients from children until they die, calling the practice "palliative care."

Under what is known as the Groningen Protocol — a 2004 set of Dutch medical directives with criteria under which doctors are allowed to perform "active ending of life on infants" without fear of legal repercussions — babies in the Netherlands can be euthanized for serious disability and terminal illness.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told Parliament this week that child euthanasia should be allowed to help "a small group of terminally ill children who agonize with no hope, and unbearable suffering." The proposal will affect between five and 10 children annually who suffer "as a result in some cases unnecessarily, for a long time, without any prospect of improvement."

The proposal has divided politicians with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party and the centrist D66 party backing the expansion and De Jonge's Christian Democratic Appeal party and the Christian Union opposing it. Parental groups and the Dutch Paediatric Association, the NVK, are also reportedly supporting the plan.

In 2002, the Netherlands became the first European country to legally authorize euthanasia, and statutes permitting when people can opt to end their lives have loosened over time. According to the European bioethics association AllianceVita, in the first decade of its legalization, the number of euthanasia cases doubled; in the first 15 years the rates had tripled. By 2016, an average of 16 people were being euthanized daily and accounted for 4% of all annual deaths in the Netherlands.

"The majority of these euthanasia cases (83%) were performed on patients suffering from incurable diseases, another 10% for multiple pathologies, 4% for disabilities related to old age, 2% for psychiatric disorders and 1% for dementia," the group reported.

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