The Dutch government announced on Friday that it would be widening its existing euthanasia regulations to include the possibility of doctor-assisted death for terminally ill children between the ages of one and twelve.
The new rules, which apply to an estimated group of around 5 to 10 children per year, are intended for those who suffer unbearably from their disease, have no hope of improvement, and for whom palliative care is unable to bring relief, a report in NDTV stated.
Only reasonable alternative for unbearable suffering
Reportedly, in a statement, the government emphasized that for the group of children in age 1-12 years, the end of life through euthanasia is the only reasonable alternative to their unbearable and hopeless suffering.
The decision to extend euthanasia regulations to include children between one and 12 years old has been met with both support and controversy, raising ethical and moral questions about the appropriate age for such a decision.
Netherlands, a pioneer in Euthanasia legalization
The Netherlands has been at the forefront of the euthanasia debate, becoming the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia under strict conditions in 2002.
All cases of euthanasia must be reported to medical review boards, and the process is tightly regulated to ensure that it is carried out in accordance with the law. The existing law already provided provisions for euthanasia involving terminally ill babies until their first birthday and for children aged older than 12.
Low incidence of Euthanasia for minors
According to figures from regional euthanasia review boards, in 2022, only one instance of euthanasia for a minor between the ages of 12 and 16 was reported in the Netherlands. This indicates that euthanasia for minors remains a rare occurrence and that the decision to extend the regulations to include children between one and twelve years old is seen as a necessary step to address the needs of a small but significant group of terminally ill children who are suffering greatly.
Belgium's precedent in allowing doctor-assisted death for children
It's worth noting that Belgium has allowed doctor-assisted death for children of all ages since 2014, which has served as a precedent for the Netherlands' decision. The Netherlands' decision to extend euthanasia regulations to include younger children reflects the evolving societal and ethical debates surrounding end-of-life care for minors, and highlights the complex and sensitive nature of the issue.