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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Shock: Dutch government wants to allow euthanasia for those who feel ‘done with life’

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

October 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The Dutch ruling cabinet is asking for a new provision under the euthanasia law that would decriminalize assisted dying for people who are “done with life” but not suffering from a serious or terminal medical condition.

The proposal took the form of a letter to the Parliament signed by Health Minister Edith Schippers and Justice Minister Ard van der Steur stating that all “elderly adults” who consider their life “complete” should obtain the possibility to die. The doctor assisting them under “strict and careful criteria” would not be prosecuted under the new provisions.

The proposal came as a bombshell — even in liberal Netherlands — after a commission set up earlier this year by Schippers to consider extending the euthanasia law to people who are tired of living but otherwise in good health was not well received. Led by Dutch sociologist Paul Schnabel, the commission concluded that it would be better to let the existing euthanasia law evolve as it has done since it came into effect in 2002.

Proponents of the change, including the active Netherlands Right to Die Association (NVVE, Nederlandse Vereniging voor een Vrijwillig Levenseinde), reacted with satisfaction, saying they were pleasantly surprised by the government initiative.

The NVVE in particular has been vocally campaigning for an end to the requirement for the existence of hopeless suffering linked to a serious medical condition. It claimed that people should have a right to self-determination and that their “autonomy” should not only be respected but find assistance in the hands of medical doctors. Being tired of living because of the loss of loved ones, a lonely life, the incapacity to live a fulfilling life, and other factors should be taken into account, the association says.

“Better help them than have them throw themselves under a train,” the media hype goes. Another example given by the people lobbying for assisted dying for those who are “done with life” is that many elderly persons are now pushed to decide to stop eating and drinking, a painful and drawn-out process.

In a media statement, Schippers spoke of the elderly who wake up to the uncomfortable fact that they have not died during the night and who only hope the new day will bring them the end they hope to reach.

While Schnabel and his commission were happy to see the existing euthanasia law slowly widening its scope to include incipient dementia patients, people with psychiatric conditions, and elderly people with multiple ailments linked to their age, he noted that “spiritual” help and care would often be better answers for people who are not gravely ill.

In fact, even as euthanasia becomes more and more accepted in Dutch society — accounting for more than 5,000 deaths (nearly 4 percent of the total) in 2015 — it appears that the death lobby is going a bit too far.

Politically, the proposed new law can count on the support of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD party and its teammate in the ruling coalition cabinet, the PvdA labor party. But in all probability, the issue will not be put up to a vote before next year’s general elections, which could bring a political reshuffling. According to the Dutch press, chances that the proposal will go into effect are slim. But it is already a milestone in the ongoing euthanasia debate.

To date, the major Christian Democrat opposition party has already slammed the proposal, saying the cabinet is extremely “careless” to have gone against the Schabel commission’s advice to leave the law as it is. As the law already gives doctors a license to kill and its application has taken Dutch practice down a “slippery slope,” this is nothing more than moderate criticism.

By Dutch standards, there were some notable reactions to the proposal. Gert-Jan Segers of the Christen-Unie, a more overtly Christian political group, accused the proposal of acting on “the myth that this is a purely individual choice, while it always also involves family members, the community, care-givers and ultimately, society as a whole.” “Such a proposal puts the care and security of the elderly under pressure,” he said.

Even more unexpectedly, the Socialist Party blasted the text in what was seen as a “fierce” tweet. Parliament member Lilian Marijnissen wrote that “care for the elderly is not in order, many older people are lonely & then ending their lives will be easier.” The party’s leader, Emile Roemer, said that while elderly people deserve to obtain “outstanding care” when they need it, the present cabinet is organizing the opposite in order to save money. “All this has led to care that is shrinking to the extreme,” he said.

The left in general – Labor, the Greens and the liberals – were upset with the criticism, accusing the Socialist Party of “crossing the line” and showing a “lack of respect towards people who want more self-determination.”

In that sense, the proposed law is indeed crossing a new threshold in the Netherlands, where under existing euthanasia provisions a person may ask for euthanasia but will only receive it if the doctor, having obtained an independent and favorable opinion, is willing to consider that the patient falls within the law’s “careful criteria.” These include “hopeless and unbearable suffering,” to which the jurisprudential interpretation of the law added the existence of a serious medical ailment or condition. The doctor, under these provisions, is the one who ultimately decides.

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Schnabel and his commission said the law as it stands could evolve toward acceptance of being “tired of living” as a form of “hopeless and unbearable suffering,” and it would be better to leave that development to run its course.

What is changing, or rather what the cabinet wants to accelerate, is a change that would introduce a larger element of patient autonomy. Being “done with life” or considering that “life is complete” or “has no more to offer” is a wholly subjective appreciation. By officially introducing this new criterion, the law would give a great deal more power to patients over the end of life, obliging doctors to consider a statement about a death wish linked mainly to a psychological refusal to go on living as an insurmountable situation to which they would finally give in.

The “tired of living” criterion would not be applied without a careful assessment to show that the patient was acting under his or her own free will. Alternative solutions would have to be offered, a second independent opinion would be required, and the patient would have to repeat the request, with the possibility of opting out at any time. Euthanasia pills or medication would only be provided near the end, in order to avoid people having their “kill pill” in a cupboard at home, with all the associated risks of misuse. A specialized group of doctors could execute this type of euthanasia.

These are “strict” criteria, the Dutch cabinet assures. Do they mean similar to the existing “strict” criteria that have seen the euthanasia law in the Netherlands more and more widely applied, causing death to be viewed nowadays as a desirable solution to ever more numerous problems and conditions?

How many elderly people in the Netherlands would today ask for death because they are “done with life?” In 2011, roughly 400 people asked their family doctor for euthanasia without having a “serious” medical condition. During the period from 2010 to 2015, NVVE says it received 800 requests from people in a “done-with-life” situation, although it is not known whether many, or any, of these were also gravely ill. There is no definite answer at this time.

What does seem clear is that on the slippery slope of euthanasia, broadening conditions will not only make euthanasia or assisted suicide more frequent. They will also put more pressure on people who feel unwanted or who consider themselves to be a burden to opt for what is being touted as an easy and “humane” way out. That is truly what Saint John Paul called a “culture of death.”

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