Tragically, a significant cohort is currently ineligible for euthanasia in the Netherlands – children aged 1 to 12. The Dutch Minister for Health plans to correct this with departmental regulations – rather than by amending the country’s euthanasia law.
Minister Ernst Kuipers has informed parliament that critically ill children who suffer unbearably and are terminally ill need relief from their suffering.
According to De Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, paediatricians have requested a regulation rather than a law: “They fear that a change in the law would polarize the debate, while they are looking for a practical solution for distressing situations for a very small target group.” A regulation – which will not be debated in parliament — is also a good way to bypass public opinion.
In the Netherlands, people over 12 may request euthanasia. Children under 1 can be euthanised under the long-standing Groningen Protocol. But some doctors have been lobbying to provide euthanasia for the 1-12 cohort as well. De Volkskrant says that Mr Kuipers’ draft proposal specifies seven criteria, including hopeless and unbearable suffering, the impossibility of alleviating the suffering, approval by doctors, and the consent of the parents.
The Netherlands is actually playing catch-up to Belgium, where child euthanasia has been legal since 2014.
In October the minister will inform Parliament about the details of his proposal and set a timetable for implementation.
Anyone who parrots the line that euthanasia will always be fully voluntary needs to examine what is happening in the Netherlands and Belgium. It was introduced for adults who were terminally ill and in severe pain. Later it became available for people with psychiatric disorders who were neither terminally ill nor in severe physical pain. Now it is being extended to children.
Euthanasia in both countries is evolving rapidly towards voluntary death on demand, for adults and children. After that? It’s no longer far-fetched to foresee involuntary euthanasia sweeping through their hospitals and nursing homes.