THE HAGUE, Netherlands (BP)–Pro-life activists in the Netherlands are facing an uphill struggle as they mobilize opposition to a government proposal to legalize euthanasia and “assisted suicide” — even for children as young as 12.
Arrayed against them are the ruling coalition with its parliamentary majority, a powerful pro-euthanasia lobby and even the Royal Dutch Medical Association, said Bert Dorenbos, head of the pro-life organization Cry for Life, in an April 6 report on the CNSNews.com Internet site.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide — where the patient takes his or her life while a doctor stands by to help if needed — have been technically illegal in the Netherlands, although widely practiced. Physicians have generally not been prosecuted if they follow prescribed guidelines.
About 4,000 Dutch patients die each year from active euthanasia in the form of a lethal injection, and more than half of the country’s doctors have carried out the practice.
Now, a bill pending before the parliament would make the Netherlands the first country in the world to legalize these practices, and it may be passed as soon as this summer, Dorenbos said.
The bill also includes guidelines, including the requirement that doctors obtain a second opinion, report each case and that patients be suffering incurable and unbearable pain.
But opponents point out that some Dutch doctors have been flouting the existing guidelines for years, and research shows that many cases already are not being reported.
The bill’s proposal that children as young as 12 should be eligible has been particularly shocking.
Dorenbos explained that the reasoning arose from previous legal decisions involving teenagers.
An earlier law involving pornography and abuse had set a precedent that victims between 12 and 16 had to report cases of sexual abuse to the police in person, rather than via a parent or guardian.
A 1995 bill allows girls of that age to have abortions without parental consent.
Because of the earlier laws, Dorenbos told CNSNews.com, supporters of the euthanasia bill argue that the same principle has to be applied with children who are terminally ill, that they should have the right to ask to kill themselves, even against the wishes of one or both parents.
Even though doctors working at large Dutch children’s hospitals had indicated that such cases were practically unheard of, Dorenbos said it would only be a matter of time before this changed, should the bill be passed.
“If you make the law, you create a market,” he said.
Cry for Life and an alliance of other pro-life groups plan to march to parliament in The Hague on April 22, where they hope to cover the square in front of the building with a blanket bearing the names of half a million people “missing” because of euthanasia and abortion.
Dorenbos said a petition would then be handed to the queen and lawmakers urging them to throw out the euthanasia bill.
One of the issues of greatest concern to Dutch pro-lifers is the fact that patients are being allowed to take their lives — or doctors are doing it for them — even where the criteria of “unbearable suffering” is not met.
Court decisions have found that the pain being experienced can be emotional or psychological, and not just physical.
In one celebrated case, Dorenbos recounted, a woman in her 50s whose husband had died asked her doctor to help her to die, saying she was deeply depressed. The doctor did so, and was subsequently prosecuted — but only for not obtaining a second opinion.
“The killing itself was approved, and this set a [legal precedent],” Dorenbos said.
“The real issue is not euthanasia [to relieve suffering], the issue is that they’d like to legalize to right … to allow anybody to kill himself at the moment he wants to die.”
A recent report in the British Medical Journal said guidelines in place in the Netherlands were failing. In 1995, almost two-thirds of cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide went unreported, the BMJ report noted.
One in five cases of euthanasia occurred without the patient’s request, and in 17 percent of such cases alternative treatment was available — even though going ahead when alternative options exist contravened the guidelines.
The BMJ said that more than half of the doctors surveyed said patients’ main justification for requesting death was “loss of dignity,” rather than the release of suffering required by the guidelines.
Goodenough is a writer on the CNSNews.com foreign desk. Reprinted by permission.