Health and justice ministers in the Netherlands asked lawmakers Wednesday to consider allowing assisted suicide for healthy people. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are already legal in the country but only for those who are terminally ill.
The request asks to allow assisted suicide for elderly people who feel their lives are complete but are otherwise physically healthy. Ministers who made the request said that people “who have a well-considered opinion that their life is complete must, under strict and careful criteria, be allowed to finish that life in a manner dignified for that them,” they wrote in the Wednesday letter.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia refer to two different things. Assisted suicide describes a suicide aided by a doctor but committed by a patient, such as with a prescribed lethal dose of drugs. Euthanasia refers to end- of-life procedures performed by the doctor himself on a patient, such as by lethal injection.
Kick started by Dr. Gertruida Postma, who in 1973 gave her dying mother a lethal injection and received a lenient sentence, the Netherlands was the first country to legalize assisted suicide in 1984. It went on to legalize euthanasia in 2001. By 2015, euthanasia accounted for 5,516 deaths in the country, or 3.9 percent of the population, according to reports. Health and justice ministers now hope to have a draft of the law for assisted suicide for healthy people completed by 2017.
Various forms of assisted suicide laws exist around the world and are shrouded in fiery debate about their morality. The first assisted suicide bill in the U.S. was proposed in Florida in 1967 where it ultimately failed but sparked heated controversy. The movement blossomed in 1990s when euthanasia activist Dr. Jack Kevorkian helped more than 130 people end their lives. Oregon went on to become the first state to pass a law legalizing assisted suicide in 1997.
Some form of legal assisted suicide now exists in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and California. The remaining states consider it a crime punishable in some cases by 10 years in prison.