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Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 09:36 GMT
Netherlands legalises mercy killing
Injection
Lethal injection will end suffering for the terminally ill
The Netherlands has become the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia, giving terminally ill patients the right to end their lives.

The new law means that doctors no longer face prosecution for carrying out mercy killings if they are performed with due care.

Dutch Parliament
The Dutch parliament approved the law last April
Strict conditions apply, with regional review committees made up of legal, medical, and ethical experts carefully judging each patient's request.

A second medical opinion will be needed, and the suffering of the patient must be deemed to be unbearable.

Only where there is doubt will the case be referred to the public prosecutor.

The upper house of the Dutch parliament approved the legislation last April and it came into force on 1 January 2002.

Euthanasia has been tolerated for decades in the Netherlands, although last month a court found a doctor guilty of malpractice for helping an 86-year-old former senator to die because he was tired of living.

Guidelines questioned

The doctor was neither sentenced nor fined by the court.

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan, in The Hague, says the case inflamed public debate over whether a person who is not physically ill should have the right to die.

Many feel the guidelines for euthanasia are too strict and that some patients are denied a humane death when their requests for assisted suicide are turned down.

The debate is now moving a step further, deciding whether elderly people should be prescribed a suicide pill when they feel the time is right.

See also:

10 Apr 01 | Europe
Analysis: New law changes little
11 Apr 01 | Europe
'Nazi' jibe over Dutch death vote
10 Apr 01 | Europe
Opposition to Dutch euthanasia
28 Nov 00 | Euthanasia
Lessons from Down Under
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