Terminally children in the Netherlands between the ages of 1 and 12 are expected to be legally allowed to be euthanized, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday.
Euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands in 2002, sparking debate and controversy around the globe. The practice was legalized for adults in Canada in 2016, and has been legalized in a handful of US states.
Under Dutch law, doctors in the Netherlands cannot be prosecuted for purposefully killing patients if the patient fulfills a certain set of criteria. Existing laws allow those with terminal illnesses over the age of 16 to consent to assisted suicide, and allows 12-to-16-year-olds to do so with the additional "consent" of their parents.
The Netherlands also allows infants up to the age of one to be euthanized under the "Groningen protocol" if they face "unbearable suffering" and the parents have consented to such a procedure, among other criteria.
Critics of the Groningen protocol have argued that it is impossible to know if a baby's suffering is "unbearable" because they are incapable of communication, and that parents may not have the best interest of the child in mind.
The proposed changes are mostly procedural, however, as terminally ill children in the Netherlands can already be legally subjected to terminal sedation. In such cases, instead of actively euthanizing the child, doctors can allow children to slip into a coma and withhold nutrients from them until they die. Such a policy has been described as a "gray area" by doctors, who have called for clearer regulation in the area.
According to the NL Times, the move likely already has the support of the ruling People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) a majority of lawmakers, pediatricians, and parental groups. The move is being opposed by Christian lawmakers from parties such as the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Christian Union (CU).
The suicide of Noa Pothoven, a 17-year-old girl from the Netherlands, attracted international attention and reignited controversy surrounding Dutch euthanasia laws in 2019. While Pothoven, who suffered from PTSD, saw her request to be euthanized rejected, doctors and her parents did nothing as she intentionally starved herself to death in her home.
Citing such cases, critics have suggested that the legalization of euthanasia has created a culture of indifference towards life itself, causing doctors to abstain themselves from intervening to save lives. Others have claimed that a different slippery slope exists whereby a practice which was originally reserved for the terminally ill will be extended to those who would best be saved through psychiatric care. Such fears were given credibility after the death of Simona De Moor, a grief-stricken 85-year-old from Belgium who received an assisted suicide three months after her daughter died.
Many opponents of euthanasia instead have argued that euthanasia itself is a form of murder, and that the practice is unethical regardless of whether there exists a slippery slope.
Supporters of euthanasia, however, have argued that self-determination is a right every individual has, which includes determining whether they want to die early. Assisted suicide, according to supporters, is more effective and less painful than other forms of suicide, and should therefore be accessible for those seeking to end their lives early.
De Jonge said that the regulations will affect less than a dozen children per year, stating the procedure only applies to children suffering "as a result in some cases unnecessarily, for a long time, without any prospect of improvement."