The Netherlands is set to allow doctors to euthanize children between one and twelve years old who suffer from conditions deemed to lead to "hopeless and unbearable suffering," according to a recent announcement from the Dutch government.
The new policy targets "a small group of terminally ill children" who are expected to die in the foreseeable future and whose suffering cannot be alleviated through palliative care options.
Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuipers, acknowledging the complexities and emotional challenges of such situations, expressed satisfaction that the policy would offer assistance to terminally ill children, their parents, and healthcare practitioners, the Guardian reported.
The government also aims to ease requirements for physicians who may be hesitant to perform late termination of pregnancy or life termination in newborns.
Previously, doctors had to demonstrate "due care" before a committee, which then forwarded the assessment to the Public Prosecution Service to determine whether a criminal investigation was warranted.
The new policy streamlines this process, requiring the Public Prosecution Service to base any criminal investigation exclusively on the judgment of the assessment committee and without access to medical files. To proceed with life termination, physicians must be convinced that euthanasia is the only reasonable alternative to alleviate the child's suffering, according to "prevailing medical opinion."
The Dutch government's announcement did not clarify the role of parents in deciding whether to administer euthanasia. Currently, children aged twelve and above can request euthanasia, with parental consent mandatory until the age of sixteen.
Assisted suicide legislation, sometimes referred to as medical assistance in dying (MAID), has expanded rapidly in Western countries. Canada, for example, modified its criminal code last year, allowing citizens with "mental illness" to request euthanasia, whereas the practice was previously limited to those with severe physical illnesses or disabilities.
While the new legislation does not explicitly permit minors to seek assisted suicide, the Canadian government acknowledges the complex legal framework surrounding children's healthcare decision-making.
The "mature minor" doctrine allows children deemed sufficiently mature to make their own treatment decisions, although parental consent and mature minor status regulations vary between provinces.
Critics of assisted suicide argue that governments with socialized medicine systems have incentives to promote euthanasia instead of funding treatment for certain patients, undermining the intrinsic value of human life and the right to life.