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From: Tony Berkman (
Date: Tue Nov 28 2000 - 12:00:51 PST

Dutch legalise euthanasia

                   November 28, 2000
                   Web posted at: 10:02 AM EST (1502 GMT)

                   THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Euthanasia,
                   which has been tolerated in the
                   Netherlands for decades and carried out
                   thousands of times each year, was
                   legalised by the Dutch parliament on
                   Tuesday in an historic move.

                   By passing legislation allowing mercy
                   killings, the Netherlands becomes the first country in
the world to allow the

                   The bill passed by a vote of 104-40. It still needs the
approval of the Senate,
                   which is considered a formality, and is expected to come
into force next year.

                   Advocates say it puts the Dutch in the vanguard of
patients' rights, and
                   opponents say it will replace caring with killing.

                   "What we are going to vote for is to take
                   euthanasia out of the criminal arena,"
                   Justice Ministry spokesman Wijnand
                   Stevens said.

                   Doctors operate under strict guidelines
                   requiring them to seek a second opinion
                   before granting a euthanasia request.

                   The decision is reviewed by a
                   commission that includes a medical
                   expert and a lawyer.

                   Unlike current practice, however, the
                   prosecutor's office will no longer review
                   euthanasia cases unless misconduct is

                   "If the regulations are met, there won't be a threat of
criminal charges," Wijnand

                   Requests in writing

                   In 1993, the Dutch adopted euthanasia guidelines, by
which it was understood
                   doctors would not be prosecuted even though assisted
suicide technically
                   remained a crime punishable by a maximum 12-year prison

                   The guidelines state that a patient must be
                   undergoing 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. Doctors are not supposed to
suggest it as an option.

                   Under the new law, a patient will be able to make 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

                   Rita Marker, executive director of the International
Anti-Euthanasia Task Force,
                   said the law would send a dangerous signal "telling
people that if it's legal, it's

                   "It will be like giving the household seal of approval.
What is currently a crime
                   will be transformed into medical treatment," Marker said.

                   Doctors honour about a third of assisted suicide
requests in the Netherlands each
                   year, according to government estimates.

                   In 1999, 2,216 cases were recorded, but there also were
believed to be a larger
                   number of unregistered cases.

                   Similar tolerance to euthanasia is shown in Switzerland,
Colombia and Belgium.

                   A law legalising voluntary euthanasia went into effect
in Australia's Northern
                   Territory in 1996 but was overturned soon after,
following pressure from the
                   federal government.

                   Euthanasia is illegal in the U.S. but in Oregon, voters
approved doctor-assisted
                   suicide for the terminally ill in 1994. Since the law
took effect in 1997, 43 people
                   have died in assisted suicides.

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