Dutch Give Final Legislative OK to Euthanasia Bill

«Historic Mistake,» Says Christian Opponent

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands, APR. 10, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The upper house of the Dutch Parliament approved a euthanasia bill today, clearing the way for the Netherlands to be the first country to officially let doctors kill their suffering patients.

One Christian leader called the bill «a historic mistake.»

The vote was 46-28 and comes after approval in November by the lower house. Religious protesters kept vigil outside government offices, holding prayers and singing hymns as the 75-seat Senate debated the bill.

Before the vote, Health Minister Els Borst claimed the law could not be abused by doctors because of supervisory provisions.

The bill formalizes the guidelines adopted in 1993 under which doctors have been assisting suicides with tacit approval, said Justice Minister Benk Korthals. The government at the time was led by the same Christian parties that now oppose the bill, he said. Arguing for the bill, government ministers cited public approval ratings of nearly 90%.

In the weeks preceding the debate, the upper house was swamped with more than 60,000 letters, most of them urging the legislators to vote against the bill. The anti-euthanasia group Cry for Life gathered 25,000 signatures on a petition.

Catholic Euro-Deputy Maria Martens of Nijmegen had fought the law. She told the Italian newspaper Avvenire: «I think we have done what we had to do. We expressed our opposition in Parliament, we have mobilized social and religious groups, and collected signatures in Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations.»

The progress of the Dutch bill was being closely watched in Europe and the United States. Germany´s Justice Minister Hertha Daeubler-Gmelin criticized the Dutch legislation, and said on ARD television that the emphasis should remain on therapy to reduce suffering. The Vatican strongly denounced the bill after it was passed by the lower house last year.

Egbert Schuurman, of the Netherlands´ conservative Christian Union, called the bill «a historic mistake,´´ the Associated Press reported. Being the first country to legislate euthanasia «is something to be ashamed of,» Schuurman said. «Others may be proud, but we will expect that some may wonder later how could they have walked this path.´´

Several countries — Switzerland, Colombia and Belgium — tolerate euthanasia, although it has not been legalized. In the United States, Oregon has allowed doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill since 1996, but its law is more restrictive than the Dutch bill. In Australia, the Northern Territories enacted a law in 1996, but it was revoked in 1997 by the federal parliament.

Under the Dutch law, a patient theoretically has to be experiencing irremediable and unbearable suffering, be aware of all other medical options and have sought a second professional opinion. The request must be made voluntarily, persistently and independently while the patient is of sound mind, the AP said.

The new law also allows patients to leave a written request for euthanasia, giving doctors the right to use their own discretion when patients become too physically or mentally ill to decide for themselves. Doctors could kill only legal residents of the Netherlands.

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