THE HAGUE, Dec 14 (Reuters) – The Netherlands does not have to make assisting in a suicide legal for anyone beyond medical professionals, Dutch judges ruled on Wednesday, rejecting a bid by a right-to-die organisation to widen euthanasia laws.
In their written decision, the judges ruled that the Dutch law strikes a “fair balance between the societal interests of a ban on assisting a suicide – protection of life and preventing abuse of vulnerable persons – and the interests of an individual to have access to physician-assisted suicide in the case of unbearable suffering without the prospect it will get better”.
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide under strict conditions and when overseen by medical professionals in 2002.
Right-to-die organisation Cooperative Last Will brought the case with the aim of widening existing laws. It argued the ban on assisting suicide not overseen by medical professionals violated the right to self-determination and respect for private life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lawyers for the Dutch state said the euthanasia laws strike a balance between the duty of the state to protect citizens, even from themselves, and individual autonomy.
Fransien van ter Beek of the country’s largest right-to-die organisation NVVE said the ruling was disappointing and the law left a substantial group of people without access to “a dignified death under their own direction”.
There has been a wider debate in the country about changing the legislation to allow euthanasia for all over-75s who feel they are done with life, even if they are not suffering from a medical condition.
In 2020 one of the ruling coalition parties submitted draft legislation to make this possible but it has not yet been voted on by parliament.
Currently, assisting a suicide or providing a means for someone to take their own life outside of the strict criteria is punishable with a jail term of up to three years.
There is a separate case before the Dutch courts against a member of Cooperative Last Will who is suspected of assisting suicide by selling “Substance X” – a suicide powder the group promotes – to at least 33 people.
Prosecutors have said another case involving 10 people with links to the cooperative is in the works.
Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Janet Lawrence