Dutch Senators Vote on Legalizing Euthanasia
The Dutch Senate was expected to legalize mercy killings Tuesday, officially authorizing a practice that had been informally allowed for years.
The vote would make the Netherlands the first country where euthanasia is legal. The lower house of parliament endorsed the bill in November.
A recent public opinion poll indicated that 85 percent of people in the Netherlands favored legalizing euthanasia.
Under the law, euthanasia would be allowed on medical recommendation under three conditions: that the patient's condition is incurable, that he is of sound mind and fully agrees to the procedure, and that his suffering is considered unbearable.
Children aged 12 to 16 would have the possibility of ending their lives voluntarily with parental consent, but consent would not be required for anyone aged over 16.
Final approval would have to be given by regional health committees, which already exist and which have in effect been carrying out this function since 1996 when mercy killings became tolerated.
Most opposition to the legislation has come from church leaders and a petition signed by about 25,000 people.
Parties in favor of the law control 46 of the 75 seats in the senate, according to justice ministry spokesman Wijnand Stevens, although Senators may vote according to their own conscience and not follow the party line.
The opposition Christian-Democrats and smaller religious parties opposed the legislation and were to take part in a silent march through the streets of The Hague ahead of the Senate vote, expected late Tuesday.
Opponents refused to accept defeat before the vote, with one activist saying: "The Bible is full of miracles. Something like that could still happen."
Lawmakers have received about 60,000 letters, most in favor of the legislation, the Dutch newspaper Trouw reported.
Much of the public debate in The Netherlands has focussed on the definition of "unbearable suffering" which can be either physical or mental. There are concerns about it applying to people suffering from depression who often see death as their only way out -- THE HAGUE (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)