Mercy killing

Published: Sunday 31 December 2000

euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide has been legalised for the first time in world history by the Netherlands government. The second chamber of the country's parliament passed a bill to this effect by a vote of 104 to 40. Starting from next year, when the bill will be enforced, doctors will be able to end the lives of certain terminally ill patients on the following conditions: the patient's condition is incurable, the patient's suffering is unbearable and the patient is of sound mind and fully agrees to the procedure. The minimum age that qualifies a person for euthanasia is 16 years without parental agreement. In extreme cases, it will also provide for parental refusal. Official figures indicate that since 1996 at least 2,565 mercy killings have been carried out in the country, 90 per cent of them involving people suffering from terminal cancer. But the actual number could be much more as many doctors carry out such assisted suicides but do not report them fearing a 12-year jail sentence. In 1993, guidelines were passed stating that doctors practising euthanasia would not be prosecuted but will be put behind bars for 12 years.

"Legalising euthanasia is good because something as serious as ending one's life deserves openness," said Els Borst, the country's health minister. According to her, euthanasia is being secretly practised in other countries such as usa. "A law which gives legal permission to the wishes of a dying patient definitely deserves place in a mature society,"said Benk Korthals, the country's justice minister.

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