Euthanasia proposal readied for children aged 1 to 12

Euthanasia proposal readied for children aged 1 to 12

Terminally-ill children between the ages of 1 and 12 will likely be granted access to euthanasia, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told Parliament on Tuesday. End of life procedures carried out by doctors in the Netherlands were already possible for infants up to one year old, and for children above 12 years old.

De Jonge said that the termination of life should be possible for “a small group of terminally ill children who agonize with no hope, and unbearable suffering.” It will affect between five and ten children per year who suffer “as a result in some cases unnecessarily, for a long time, without any prospect of improvement.” He stressed “the great importance of the best possible care for this group of terminally ill children.”

For the children referenced in the new policy, doctors are only allowed to give palliative care, like sedation, or withhold nutrition over an extended period of time until the patient dies. Doctors describe this as “a gray area” between normal palliative care and active life termination, he said, and they have been calling out for more regulation.

The party said it was inappropriate to push the significant legislation through with less than a half year remaining until the next election. De Jonge said his proposal will protect the interests of children, and will afford more transparency to the “gray area”. This in turn makes physicians more accountable to parents, and provides a basis for review and assessment of individual cases, which already exists for euthanasia patients of other ages.

There was likely a majority in Parliament willing to support expanding access to end of life treatment to the age group, which is also supported the association of pediatricians (NVK) and parental groups. “In response to the position of the NVK, I want to ensure more legal safeguards for doctors who, on the basis of their professional standard, proceed with life-ending actions of children aged 1 to 12 years,” he said in his four-page brief.

The issue was considered a divisive one for the third Cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. While Rutte’s VVD party and centrist D66 were in support of the plan, De Jonge’s CDA party and the other Christian party in the coalition, ChristenUnie were opposed. While De Jonge wanted to start debate on the issue, ChristenUnie reportedly tried to stop the idea from moving forward.

The ministry was still working with the Public Prosecution Service (OM) and professional medical organizations to make the policy clear.