Government: scope for assisted suicide for people who regard their life as completed

People who have come to a well-considered decision that their life is completed must be allowed, under strict and carefully identified criteria, to end their life with dignity. In consultation with various care organisations, the government intends to develop new legislation based on this principle. The system would exist alongside and separately from the current legislation on euthanasia. Health minister Edith Schippers and justice minister Ard van der Steur today informed the House of Representatives of this intention in a letter responding to the Schnabel committee’s report.

In late 2013, the House of Representatives asked for a study to be carried out to establish the legal scope for assisted suicide for people who regard their life as completed, and to identify the social dilemmas that surround this issue. A diverse committee chaired by Professor Paul Schnabel presented its final report in February 2016. The committee concluded that the current euthanasia legislation functions well and that there is scope within that legislation that is not being used at present.

The government is pleased with the committee’s conclusion that the current legislation on euthanasia functions well for people who fall within its scope and that there is no reason to amend it. Although the legislation does not provide any scope for people whose suffering does not have a medical dimension, the Schnabel committee does not consider it desirable to widen the current legal scope for assisted suicide.

According to the government, however, this conclusion does not do justice to the wishes of people who regard their life as completed and request help in ending it. The government takes the view that such a request for help made by a person who is suffering unbearably and with no prospect of improvement, but whose suffering does not have a medical dimension, can be legitimate.

The government is firmly committed to protecting human life. This means that the preconditions under which people would be allowed to exercise their freedom to choose how their life ends will be an essential component of the solution the government seeks. The voluntary, well-considered nature of such decisions, as well as safety and due care, are the guiding principles in this respect. An end-of-life counsellor must establish without doubt that no treatment, medical or otherwise, could change the person’s mind about wanting to die. As the growing demand for autonomy in end-of-life decisions generally comes from elderly people, any new system will be limited to people in that age group. Crucial factors will be careful guidance and prior assessment by an end-of-life counsellor with a medical background who has received specific additional training. Additional guarantees focusing on careful assessment by a third person, counselling for people making the decision, checks and monitoring will all also be part of any new system.