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BBC Europe correspondent Angus Roxburgh
"Strict criteria must be adhered to"
 real 56k

Bart Shturtevaagen, Die Standaard, Belgium
"We have been talking about this in the Belgian senate for more than a year now"
 real 28k

Tamora Langley, Voluntary Euthanasia Society
"We warmly welcome the decision the Dutch have made"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 14:57 GMT
Dutch MPs legalise mercy killings
inject
Parental consent will be required up until the age of 16
The Netherlands has become the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia.

The bill was carried in the Dutch parliament by a vote of 104 for and 40 against.


It will give freedom of choice at the most emotional moment of one's life

Labour Party leader Ad Melkert
Euthanasia has been tolerated for many years in the Netherlands, but it remains illegal and doctors administering a lethal drug to a patient are, in theory, liable to be prosecuted.

The law still needs the approval of the Senate, but this is considered a formality, and it is expected to enter into force next year.

Labour Party leader Ad Melkert welcomed the vote.


What is currently a crime will be transformed into medical treatment

Rita Marker, anti-euthanasia campaigner
"It will give freedom of choice at the most emotional moment of one's life."

Rita Marker, executive director of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, said the law would send a dangerous signal.

"It will be like giving the household seal of approval. What is currently a crime will be transformed into medical treatment," Marker told The Associated Press.

Strict criteria

The new legislation will make it legal to end a patient's life, subject to very strict criteria:

  • The patient must be suffering unbearable and unremitting pain.
  • He or she must have repeatedly requested help to die and a second medical opinion must be sought.
  • The termination of life must then be carried out in a medically appropriate manner.

The new law also allows patients to leave a written request for euthanasia, giving doctors the right to use their own discretion when patients become too physically or mentally ill to decide for themselves.

Opinion polls have shown that a clear majority of Dutch people support the law, though it has been opposed by others, mainly on religious or ethical grounds.

A controversial clause which would have allowed children as young as 12 to end their lives was dropped.

Openness

Under the new law, parental consent will be required up until the age of 16.

In terms of the practice of mercy killing, little will change when the new law comes into effect.

But with doctors now only reporting half the total number of euthanasia cases, the government is hoping that without the threat of prosecution, they will become more open about their activities.

Earlier this month a study published in the medical journal The Lancet raised questions over the use of voluntary euthanasia to end the lives of terminally ill patients.

Lethal drugs

Researchers from universities in Belgium - where euthanasia is thought to be responsible for 10% of deaths - asked physicians who had signed death certificates to tell them anonymously, if the deaths had been assisted.

They found that patients had been helped to die in three main ways: through the administration of opium-based painkillers, by withholding treatment that could have prolonged life, and by the administration of lethal drugs.

The researchers also found that in a small number of cases lethal drugs were administered without the patients' explicit consent.

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Euthanasia
Is it mercy killing or just murder?
See also:

01 Jul 99 | Euthanasia
A euthanasia glossary
24 Feb 00 | Health
Euthanasia deaths 'not easy'
28 Nov 00 | Europe
Opposition to Dutch euthanasia
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