Mercy Killing for 12 Year Olds 'Goes Too Far'

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

( - New guidelines before the Dutch parliament on mercy killing, which give children as young as 12 the right to demand and receive euthanasia, are proving too much even for Holland, a country that prides itself on its libertarian social policies.

"This has caused quite an uproar in Holland, not only among the opposition. A leading Dutch paper had an editorial this morning that said this goes too far," Bert Dorenbos, leader of Scream for Life, the largest Dutch pro-life group, based in The Hague, told

The proposed legislation, which observers claim was submitted by Dutch lawmakers during the summer vacation period in the hope it would escape public scrutiny, would make the Netherlands the first country to officially sanction mercy killing, a procedure that has been legal in Holland for the past 20 years. The proposal will come before parliament next year and many observers predict the legislation will pass.

The practice of euthanasia became widespread in Holland two decades ago after a court failed to convict a doctor who administered a lethal injection to her terminally-ill mother. When the doctor told the court she put an end to her mother's life out of compassion, the judge let her off, ruling that in such a case mercy killing was permissible.

In successive cases, judges further broadened the conditions under which they would not prosecute if a doctor killed a patient. However, now that the practice is legal, restrictions placed on it have become lax, critics contend.

"The bottom line is, all of these legal conditions are ignored as a matter of routine. Literally none of them are observed, and there have been no more prosecutions," Dr. Jack Willke, President of the International Right to Life Federation in Cincinnati, Oh., told

The restrictions laid down are comprehensive and specific, Willke said. They include:

- The request for euthanasia must come only from the patient and must be entirely free and voluntary.

- The patient's request must be well considered; must be repeated and persistent.

- The patient must be experiencing intolerable pain with no prospect of improvement. Such suffering does not have to be physical; it can be emotional.

- It must be performed by a physician. The physician must consult with other independent physicians who have experience in the field.

- It must be established that everything has been tried and nothing has succeeded, all alternatives have been considered, and euthanasia is an absolute last resort.

- All euthanasia cases must be reported as such on death certificates and all cases must be reported to proper authorities.

Some 130,000 people are buried every year in Holland, and about 24,000 of them are killed by doctors, reported Willke, who told he maintains an office in Amsterdam specifically to monitor euthanasia in Holland.

"The 3,000 deaths a year by euthanasia that you hear about in Holland are ones in which the doctor administers a direct lethal injection to a patient. We estimate another 20,000 are helped on the way in a very direct manner, and literally none of these are reported," Willke said.

The most typical unrecorded case of euthanasia is when a patient, such as a cancer patient who is terminally ill, receives massive doses of morphine in an IV drip until he or she dies. In such cases, the death certificate will say the patient died from cancer, Willke said.

Euthanasia is also legal for people who are emotionally ill, Willke said. Most recently, a teenager was given a lethal cocktail by a psychiatrist because he was depressed. The teenager took the medicine home and killed himself.

"So it's not just emotional illness, it's underage children," Willke said.

Critics of euthanasia are taking heart from the outcry against this legislation, and the fact that lawmakers tried to push it through behind the public's back.

"We're a small country, but people here are sensitive to outside opinion, so international pressure is very helpful," Dorenbos said.

"This is horrible because a democracy is meant to take care of minorities in a special way. But what is happening now is the minority and the defenseless are being discriminated against. Little children in severe physical pain are discriminated against and told, 'you don't have the right anymore to be comforted and helped, so we'll give you the choice to kill yourself,'" Dorenbos said.