There is no need to update the current euthanasia legislation to take account of very elderly people who feel their life is complete, a government advisory committee said on Thursday.
The committee was set up following the acquittal of a man who had helped his 99-year-old mother to die because she felt her life was at an end. It is currently a criminal offence for family members to help a relative to die.
The committee said in its report very few people end up wishing their life was over, and that many of those who do have health complaints which ‘taken together’ would allow them to take advantage of the current law on mercy killing.
Current legislation on euthanasia gives doctors protection from prosecution if a patient was suffering unbearably and without prospect of improvement. The doctor must be satisfied that all alternative forms of treatment have been exhausted or discounted, and seek a second opinion from an independent professional.
As well as recommending against changes to the current law, the committee said more should be done to make sure people are not ‘tired of living’ by, for example, doing more to eradicate loneliness.
The two liberal parties, VVD and D66, said they were disappointed in the findings, as are the left-wing greens GroenLinks. ‘Even if we are only talking about a small group, their suffering is great,’ a party spokesman told broadcaster Nos.
The Dutch voluntary euthanasia society NVVE said it is surprised by the new report and disputed the claim that most elderly people who wish to die have multiple health complaints.
The organisation last November relaunched its campaign to have a pill made available to elderly people who wish to end their lives. The idea for such a pill was first launched at the beginning of the 1990s by senior judge and euthanasia campaigner Huib Drion and became known as ‘Drion’s pill’.
The NVVE says the pills should only be issued by pharmacists or family doctors. ‘This is important to make sure the drugs cannot be used for suicide, abuse or murder,’ the organisation said.