NY Times - In the Netherlands, a country vaunted for its liberalism, a proposal to legalize assisted suicide for older people who are generally healthy but feel they have led a full life has stirred up an ethical storm in some quarters.
In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for patients who were suffering unbearable pain and had no prospects of a cure.
Now, some critics say the country has gone too far with a proposed law that would allow people who are not suffering from a medical condition to seek assisted suicide if they feel they have “completed life.” Proponents of the law counter that limiting assisted death to patients with terminal illnesses is no longer enough, and that older people have the right to end their lives with dignity, and when they so choose.
Edith Schippers, the health minister, read a letter to the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday defending the measure. It is needed, she said, to address the needs of “older people who do not have the possibility to continue life in a meaningful way, who are struggling with the loss of independence and reduced mobility, and who have a sense of loneliness, partly because of the loss of loved ones, and who are burdened by general fatigue, deterioration and loss of personal dignity.”
The letter said that the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte hoped to draft the law by the end of 2017 in consultation with doctors and ethicists. It stressed that the law needed to be applied with great care, including careful vetting of potential applicants by a “death assistance provider” with a medical background.
While state-assisted suicide is deeply polarizing in many countries, including the United States, the practice has gained wide acceptance in the Netherlands. In 2015, euthanasia accounted for 5,516 deaths, or nearly 4 percent of all deaths in the country, a government agency says.