One of the Netherlands’ most prominent advocates and practitioners of euthanasia now believes Britain was right to be cautious about legalising the practice because it “irrevocably” leads to the “random killing of defenceless sick people”.
Dr Bert Keizer said developments in his country had convinced him that his colleagues in the UK were right to remain cautious about assisted dying when the Netherlands legalised the practice in 2002. “What our British colleagues had predicted years earlier, with unconcealed complacency, happened: those who embark on euthanasia venture down a slippery slope along which you irrevocably slide down to the random killing of defenceless sick people”.
Writing in the Dutch Medical Association Journal, Dr Keizer noted that assisted dying was now no longer confined to the terminally ill, but commonly includes the elderly who “find that their life no longer has content”. He also said that he expects the Netherlands to eventually allow disabled children and prisoners on life-sentences to be euthanised because “every time a line was drawn, it was also pushed back.”
The UK Parliament has repeatedly voted down attempts to legalise euthanasia, with MPs most recently rejecting a 2015 bill by 336 votes to 118 which would have allowed doctors to prescribe barbiturate drugs used to end a person’s life.
But right-to-die campaigners remain confident that support for euthanasia is growing and that it could soon become law. Speaking as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for choice at the end of life, Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell recently argued in the Commons that euthanasia could be introduced within this current parliament: “We need to make clear that we are not looking here for a massive change. We are looking for very, very tight reform.
“I think that given the very limited nature of these proposals; that it would be for someone who is within six months of the end of their life, with very strong safeguards, the decision being made by a High Court judge, by two doctors – I think those limited proposals may command the support of parliament in the next four years.”
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is currently considering revised proposals for an assisted dying law from the SNP’s Josh Aaron-Mennie, which could lead to Holyrood publishing euthanasia legislation after the May 2021 elections. Aaron-Mennie is due to make the case for his new proposals at the SNP’s party conference next month.
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