Almost 15 years after legalising euthanasia, the Dutch government may broaden the law to give elderly people who are not sick the legal right to assisted suicide if they feel their lives are "complete". The project, which is unlikely to be put forward as a draft law before elections due in March, was already triggering strong debate today across The Netherlands. "People who believe after deep reflection that they have completed their lives, should be able under strict conditions to end their lives in the dignified manner they choose," the Dutch health and justice ministers said in a letter sent to parliament late yesterday. The Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium became the first countries in the world to legalise euthanasia in 2002. But it is carried out under strict conditions, and only after a minimum of two doctors have certified that there is no other reasonable solution for the patient and that their suffering is "unbearable and without any hope of improvement". Last year there were some 5,516 cases of euthanasia in the country -- or 3.9 per cent of all registered deaths. More than 70 per cent of those who opted to end their lives in this way suffered from cancer, while some 2.9 per cent had dementia or psychiatric illnesses.
It was also a steady increase on the 3,136 cases registered in 2010. The sensitive issue has often raised eyebrows abroad as terminally-ill minors aged between 12 to 18 are also allowed to opt for euthanasia while certain mental conditions, such as dementia, can be found to constitute "unbearable suffering." The proposed draft law will be drawn up after consultations with doctors and medical practitioners. But acknowledging that the belief of "having accomplished one's life is mainly something felt among the elderly", it would only apply to senior citizens, the ministers said, without specifying any ages. It would be for people who "no longer see any possibility of giving their life meaning, deeply feel their loss of independence, and remain isolated or lonely perhaps because they have lost a loved one," the ministers said. "But to be able to end their lives, they need help." An "assistant in death" -- someone with medical and special training -- would have to authorise an assisted suicide after ruling out that there is any treatment which could overcome the "wish to die." As in euthanasia cases, a committee of specialists would afterwards review that the law had been followed. For 95-year-old Pieter Jiskoot it would be a blessing as he has sought for years to be able to end his days, but does not want to do so alone.
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