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Dutch Senate Approves Euthanasia Law

December 1, 1993

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ The Dutch Senate narrowly approved the industrialized world’s most permissive euthanasia policy on Tuesday and sent the measure to Queen Beatrix, who is expected to sign the bill within 24 hours.

The measure, adopted by a 37-34 vote, must be signed by the justice minister before becoming law, a process expected to take about 10 days.

The legislation does not make mercy-killing legal, but allows it under heavy restrictions. A physician who administers euthanasia while scrupulously following the guidelines is guaranteed virtual immunity from prosecution.

No legal action would be taken against a physician who assists a patient in dying when the patient suffers from unbearable pain and repeatedly and lucidly requests death.

The legislation requires physicians to inform law enforcement authorities of all mercy killings, including cases in which they administer measures leading to death to patients unable to give their consent, such as severely deformed infants and comatose people.

In those cases it will be up to law enforcement authorities whether to prosecute.

The maximum sentence would remain 12 years in prison. Over the last decade, no one has been jailed for the offense.

Euthanasia has been an accepted practice here for many years, with both physicians and the government recognizing the guidelines now making it into the law books. Doctors have long tacitly observed those guidelines.

However, the government-backed legislation, passed after weeks of debate, was a compromise that drew fire from mercy-killing advocates and enemies alike.

Opponents claim it sacrifices patients’ human rights to safeguard physicians’ legal status, and could lead to Nazi-like excesses against society’s defenseless.

Euthanasia advocates object to euthanasia remaining a criminal offense at all.

″This is not the right legislation for this problem,″ said Elida Wessel- Tuinstra, a Democrats 66 Party legislator and longtime backer of legalizing euthanasia, who says the measure is so vague it doesn’t fully define what euthanasia is.

About 2,700 cases of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide occur each year, or 2.1 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands, according to the 1991 Remmelink report, the most recent authoritative study. The report said an additional 8,800 deaths resulted from accelerated clinical measures to end the life of a suffering patient, with or without request.

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