Plans to legalize euthanasia under “strict” guidelines are expected to gain approval next year in the Netherlands, making it the first country in the world to formally legalize euthanasia.

“Mercy killing” has been taking place without prosecution in Holland with greater and greater frequency over the past 25 years. A series of court decisions starting in 1973 resulted in the establishment of guidelines whereby euthanasia or assisted suicide could happen without prosecution, even though the Dutch penal code was never changed.

The new law that is being proposed in the Dutch legislature would make changes to articles 293 and 294 of the Dutch penal code, formalizing practices which are now already widely accepted in that country.

The new law will extend court precedents and the 1984 guidelines of the Royal Dutch Medical Association to persons as young as 12 years of age. In order for “mercy killing” to be permitted under this new law, the patient must make a voluntary and informed request, and must be suffering irremediable and unbearable pain. (Dutch court decisions have established the interpretation of “pain” to include emotional suffering.)

This law also recognizes “euthanasia declarations,” documents in which patients can state that they want euthanasia even when they are no longer able to request it themselves.

A study released as recently as Feb. 16, 1999 by Dr. John Keown and Professor Gerrit van der Wal, showed that the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands is already impossible to control, in spite of the country’s much-touted “safeguards.”

‘Safeguards’ woefully ineffectiveCurrently, three per cent of all Dutch deaths are reported as euthanasia cases. Keown and van der Wal found that in 1995, almost two-thirds of the actual cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide went unreported, one in five cases of euthanasia occurred without the patient’s explicit request (alternative treatments were available in 17 per cent of these cases), over half the doctors stated that the main reason given by patients for requesting euthanasia was “loss of dignity,” and almost half the doctors granted the request to “prevent further suffering.”

The study also showed that when all the end of life decisions are taken into account, the number of “mercy killings” go from 3,200 reported cases to as many as 24,500 total cases each year. The authors of the report concluded that “the reality is that a clear majority of cases of euthanasia, both with or without request, go unreported and unchecked. Dutch claims of effective regulation ring hollow.”