Holland: Euthanasia Soon to Be Approved for Children under 12 Years of Age?


The Dutch Health Minister on 14th April 2023 announced that he was preparing a regulation to authorise resorting to euthanasia for children between 1 and 12 years of age.

In a letter to the Dutch Parliament, Ernst Kuipers, the Dutch Health Minister announced that he intended to implement resorting to euthanasia for children between 1 and 12 years old.

As soon as it was legalised in 2001, Dutch law authorised euthanasia and assisted suicide for minors over the age of 12. The law provides that between 12 and 16 years old, parental authorisation is mandatory but merely consultative between 16 and 18 years old. Moreover, since 2005, a protocol known as the Gröningen protocol specifies the conditions and steps to be followed in the context of end-of-life decisions for newborns, including euthanasia.

The Dutch Government intends to extend the possibility of euthanasia to children under the age of 12 through a ministerial regulation rather than through the legal channels. It intends to modify an existing regulation concerning late abortions and life termination for newborns in line with the Gröningen protocol.  According to the Health Minister euthanasia would be offered if it is the only option to end unbearable suffering and where there is no hope of improvement for the child.

It should be noted that Dutch law like Canadian law, avoids using the words euthanasia and assisted suicide: the legislator uses the term “life interruption” for euthanasia whilst Canadian law refers to “medical assistance in dying”, as a means of distraction from the gravity of the process.

Already in 2020 the executive had announced it was working towards such a change: several political parties expressed their opposition.

The spokesman for the Health Ministry when questioned by AFP stated that if the child was incapable of discernment, the parent could decide in consultation with the doctor, which raises serious questions on children’s rights and departs from the framework of the current law. It provides that “If patients aged 16 or more are no longer capable of expressing their will, but before being in that state, were considered capable of adequately understanding their interests on the subject and having made a written declaration in which they asked for life interruption, the doctor may act in accordance with such request”.

For the last two years, campaigns have been launched in opposition to this project and to promote the development of paediatric palliative care. It is possible that the opponents will be intensifying their actions in the coming months.

A warning to the French by Theo Boer last December, alerted on the slippery slope and the illusion of regulating such practices, is tragically being confirmed. This Professor of the Ethics of Health, and an ardent defender of the 2002 law, was part of the euthanasia control commission until 2014. “Whilst France is seriously considering the question, the Dutch example should act as a wake-up call for what could happen.”

Further reading:

Report on euthanasia in Holland 

The slippery slope of euthanasia abroad: focus on four foreign legislations

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