More MS news articles for July 1999

Netherlands may legalize mercy killing

Tuesday, July 13, 1999
The Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The Dutch government has recommended decriminalizing mercy killing, a proposal that would take its world-renowned liberal euthanasia policy out of a legal gray area. "It was agreed that to decriminalize euthanasia is the logical step of the policy we have had so far," Justice Ministry spokesman Wijnand Stevens said Monday.

Although thousands of terminally ill patients ask for and receive euthanasia each year in the Netherlands, the practice remains officially outlawed. Bowing to pressure from doctors and euthanasia advocates, the government now plans to formally decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide on the condition that it is carried out according to strict guidelines.

A proposed law change would formalize a situation that has existed since 1993, when the Dutch parliament voted to tolerate euthanasia on condition it was governed by tight guidelines.  Those guidelines stipulate that candidates must suffer from unbearable and irremediable pain and must request death repeatedly and lucidly. Doctors must also seek a second opinion and report all euthanasia deaths to authorities.

But while the practice was tolerated, it remained officially illegal even if the guidelines were followed. Physicians claimed it left them in a legal limbo.

The proposal has to be approved by both chambers of the Dutch parliament, a process expected to take up to a year, Stevens said.

Although 3 percent of all Dutch deaths -- 3,600 people -- each year are reported as euthanasia, the actual number is believed to be much higher. Public acceptance of the practice is overwhelming; a 1998 poll indicated that 92 percent of the population supports it.