The Dutch solution: assisted suicide that's far too liberal

September 23, 1999

Here is an excerpt of an editorial from the Chicago Tribune, which was published Tuesday.

IN ILLINOIS, you have to be 21 years old before you can get a tattoo without parental consent. In the Netherlands, social attitudes are a bit more permissive.

Under a new law proposed by the Dutch government, a child as young as 12, without the permission of her parents, could do more than get a tattoo -- she would be allowed to get a physician's help in committing suicide.

In the Netherlands, doctor-assisted suicide is technically against the law, but for the past decade, doctors who follow official guidelines have been assured that they won't be prosecuted.

Now the government wants to give unconditional approval to the practice. The draft legislation would make assisted suicide fully legal if done within the guidelines, and it would make it available to children as young as 12.

If the parents object, no matter: A child who wants to end her life will get her wish. The legislation is supposed to head off abuses by restricting the procedure to sick patients who request it, face unbearable suffering and have no chance of recovery.

Note what is missing from that list: Neither the old policy nor this measure limits assisted suicide to people who have terminal illnesses. Even physical illness is not required.

Even more disturbing is that the government has done little to enforce the guidelines. A 1991 survey of physicians who had assisted suicides found some 1,000 cases where lethal injections were carried out on patients -- mostly comatose ones -- who had not requested them.

In some cases, even the family was not consulted. But such abuses have been greeted with indifference by law enforcement. Few physicians have been prosecuted for taking the law into their own hands, and even fewer have been punished.

When the Netherlands decided to tolerate this form of killing, critics warned that it would foster a too-casual attitude toward death. So far, the critics seem to have been right.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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