Dutch officials consider euthanasia guidelines.

THE NETHERLANDS--Health officials in the Netherlands are considering guidelines for euthanasia that doctors could follow for terminally ill patients with "no free will," such as children, the severely mentally retarded, and patients in irreversible comas.

In recent years, reports of "mercy killings" of babies have surfaced, prompting the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) to ask the Netherlands Ministry of Health to create an independent board to evaluate euthanasia cases for each category of people "with no free will."

Under the current rules, the decision to end a life must be freely made by the patient; well-considered and persistent, there must be unbearable pain and suffering, and the attending physician should consult with a colleague. There are no official guidelines for patients who are unable to make that decision.

Dr. Eduard Verhagen, clinical director of the Gronigen Academic Hospital, said that the babies who had been euthanized were born with incurable conditions so serious that doctors felt that the most humane course would be to allow the child to die with their assistance.

Eric Van Yijlick, project manager for Support and Consultation on Euthanasia in the Netherlands (SCEN), said that the Groningen newborn "mercy-killing" cases should be referred to as "life ending without request," because the term "euthanasia" indicates that the dying patient has requested the procedure.

(Source: Dutch Health Ministry, December 2004.)

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