The Dutch government has announced it will move forward with plans to legalize euthanasia for children under the age of 12, drawing criticism from right-to-life ethicists who have watched as euthanasia has become a growing option in the country.
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said he will draft legislation to protect doctors from prosecution if they offer euthanasia rather than palliative care to terminally ill children. De Jonge claims the new rules are designed to help a small “group of terminally ill children who agonize with no hope and unbearable suffering.”
But Professor Theo Boer warns that the legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide has made it the “default way to die” in the Netherlands, with a 150% increase in people seeking assisted suicide between 2007 and 2019.
Boer was once a fierce advocate for assisted suicide and euthanasia, and even served as a member on one of the five regional euthanasia review committees in the Netherlands. The committees are meant to assess “whether a physician who has performed euthanasia or assisted in suicide has complied with the due care criteria set out in the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act.”
Now a professor of health care ethics in the Netherlands, Boer believes that state-sanctioned euthanasia has fundamentally changed Dutch culture.
“The signal that is being sent to a society is that death is the solution to any form of unbearable and irremediable suffering. … Whereas the law sees assisted suicide and euthanasia as an exception, public opinion is shifting towards considering them rights, with corresponding duties on doctors to act.”
Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at Christian Concern, said in a recent interview that the Dutch government’s willingness to allow the euthanization of young children is a “cruel, dangerous and disturbing development.”
“Even the suggestion to young children that dying is the right option is going to be disturbing and will provoke anxiety,” he said. “Children will feel pressured to die, pressured to allow people to kill them. And parents will feel pressured to kill their children or allow their children to be killed. What an awful thought that is, what an awful example.
“Euthanasia is not the right way round,” he added. “It is not what care is; it is against all medical codes of ethics, all historic codes of ethics, all religious codes of ethics.
“What you’ve got now in the Netherlands is a culture of death, where 4% of deaths are now euthanasia and this shows the prevalence, the normalization of killing people because they are suffering.”
Assisted suicide has been legal in the Netherlands since 2001. Babies under one year and children between the ages of 12 and 15 are already permitted to undergo state-sanctioned assisted suicide as long as the patient is terminally ill and there is parental consent.
Teens ages 16-17 do not currently need parental consent should they choose doctor-assisted suicide.
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