Netherlands to extend euthanasia access to terminally ill children under 12 this year
The Cabinet is pushing forward with a new regulation to enable euthanasia for terminally ill children aged 1-12 who experience unbearable and hopeless suffering. Health Minister Ernst Kuipers announced in a press release on Friday that he expects the regulation to be implemented within the year. The new guidelines will probably only apply to about five to ten children annually for whom “life termination is the only viable option to end the child's hopeless and unbearable suffering,” said Kuipers.
He emphasized that this concerns children whose illnesses are so severe that death is inevitable and expected in the near future. "This is a particularly complex issue that deals with very distressing situations. Situations that no one would wish to encounter," noted the minister.
Following life termination, a review committee and the Public Prosecution Service will examine whether the procedure was carried out with due care.
The Euthanasia Act already allows adults and children 12 and over to end their lives if they are suffering unbearably and without hope. The law considers them capable of understanding their situation and the gravity of their decision. Euthanasia presupposes self-determination and competence, considered lacking by children under the age of 12 by law.
But the Netherlands does not currently have any regulations formally in place to relieve critically- and terminally ill children between the ages of 1 and 12 from unbearable suffering. A study in 2019 showed a great need for an option to end the life of children in this age group who suffer "without hope and unbearably." In the study, parents described how they had no options available to them, while their children screamed in agony for hours on end or suffered from almost continuous seizures. One mother told how a brain tumor left her child screaming for three days, banging his head, and shouting for help.
In the past, the issue was considered to be a divisive issue among the current coalition partners. Former Health Minister and current Housing Minister Hugo de Jonge had proposed facilitating life termination for children aged 1-12 in 2020. While Rutte's VVD party and the centrist D66 supported the plan, De Jonge's CDA party and the ChristenUnie, another Christian party in the coalition, strongly opposed it.
The debate continues to be politically contentious in the Netherlands. A study from Tilburg University revealed in 2019 that Netherlands' residents in their 20s and 30s hold more conservative views on issues like abortion and euthanasia compared to previous generations.
The government will modify an existing regulation to the law governing Late Termination of Pregnancy and Life Termination of Newborns (LZA/LP) to enable this change, in line with Kuipers' proposal published in June 2022. The proposed change will be laid down by ministerial regulation, which is not subject to approval by both chambers.