Dutch government backs euthanasia for children under the age of 12

The county, which has one of the most liberal euthanasia policies in the world, already allows young people between the ages of 12 and 18 to opt for the procedure as long as consent is given by the patient and their parents.

The government of Netherlands has approved plans which will permit doctors to legally euthanise children below the age of 12. Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the new policy was necessary to help “a small group of terminally ill children who agonise with no hope, and unbearable suffering,” The Guardian reported.

The county, which has one of the most liberal euthanasia policies in the world, already allows young people between the ages of 12 and 18 to opt for the procedure as long as consent is given by the patient and their parents, The Guardian reported. The rule also applies for babies below the age of one.

The issue has sparked months of debate in the four-party ruling coalition government in the Netherlands, the BBC reported. The practice has also faced opposition from certain conservative Christian groups.

After the government finally approved the plan, the country’s health minister has said he will soon draw out new regulations to ensure that the practice is not misused. He cited a study conducted by experts, which showed that around five to ten children would be affected by the rule change every year.

“The study shows that there is a need for active termination of life among doctors and parents of incurably ill children, who are suffering hopelessly and unbearably and will die within the foreseeable future,” de Jonge wrote in a letter to parliament, obtained by the BBC.

He stated that while existing laws will not be changed, doctors will no longer be prosecuted for carrying out approved euthanasia on children under the age of 12. However there are a few clauses that remain — parental consent is needed, the patient must be enduring “unbearable and endless suffering”, and at least two doctors must vouch for the need of the procedure.

The rules are expected to be implemented within the next few months.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2002. Its neighbour Belgium became the first to allow for voluntary child euthanasia in 2014.

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