The Hague, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- A bill has been under debate in the Dutch parliament since last year on legalizing euthanasia for healthy adults over 75 who are tired of living their advanced age, opening a nationwide debate on the contentious issue.
Euthanasia or assisted suicide defines a culture of dying well in the Netherlands, where it has been legal since 2002, although not without controversies.
“If the patient knows that he can get euthanasia when he wants, he sometimes holds the pain for a little longer. I believe that the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands has helped people live longer than they would have without it,” Jacob Kohnstamm, head of the regional euthanasia review committees or RTE, told EFE.
His office in The Hague has teams of public prosecutors, doctors, lawyers and experts on ethics studying each euthanasia case, and helps initiate legal proceedings if people involved are suspected to have breached the law.
The person opting for euthanasia is first asked to confirm that his decision is voluntary and well thought out, and that it comes in the face of unbearable suffering and hopelessness due to the lack of any alternative solution.
Moreover, the doctor supervising it needs to inform the patient about his situation and options, and seek an independent second opinion. The procedure too needs to be done correctly using proper drugs in a correct manner.
Despite these safeguards, the law permitting euthanasia in the country has been mired in controversies since its introduction in 2002.
Last year, the Supreme Court found a doctor, who had euthanized a 74-year-old woman with advanced dementia, innocent of murder.
The patient had left a written “will” requesting assisted suicide if her medical condition worsened, but had later supposedly given contradictory signs in this respect.
The public prosecutor’s office considered that the doctor should have done more to establish the patient wanted to go ahead and end her life given that she could no longer give a verbal consent due to her deteriorating health.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that the law had not been violated, setting a legal precedent.
In 2019, there were 6,361 cases of euthanasia, representing 4.2 percent of total deaths in the Netherlands.
Most of these patients were suffering from terminal illnesses, such as cancer or lung problems.
Steven Pleiter, the head of Expertisecentrum Euthanasie – a body that counsels and supports physicians helping patients with a request for euthanasia, told the local media that they expect annual cases of euthanasia to double in the next eight years in the Netherlands.
The public debate that led to the legalization of euthanasia in the country dates back to 1971, when Geertruida Postma helped her terminally ill mother to fulfill her wish of dying.
The case ended up in the supreme court which sentenced the daughter to a week in prison, bringing in the possibility of euthanasia in exceptional cases, and opening a legal debate on the issue.
At that time there were frequent protests from religious groups, but the response from the liberal sections was that “you have the freedom to believe that what God gives should not be taken away by man, but like euthanasia, that is an individual decision,” said Kohnstamm of RTE. EFE-EPA