The cabinet has agreed to make euthanasia a possibility for very sick children who have run out of options for treatment, in line with proposals published by health minister Ernst Kuipers last year.
For years, doctors have called for regulations to cover children between the ages of one and 12. There are already guidelines in place for babies, and the over 12s fall under the general euthanasia law.
Kuipers told MPs in a briefing he plans to extend and revise the protocol for babies to cover children aged 12 and under who are suffering unbearably and for whom palliative care options are not sufficient to relieve their symptoms.
‘This is a particularly complex issue that deals with very distressing situations,’ Kuipers said. ‘I am glad that, after intensive consultation with everyone involved, we have reached a solution that will help these incurably ill children, their parents and also their doctors.’
The debate is politically sensitive given there are two Christian parties in the coalition and follows moves to widen the current euthanasia guidelines to cover patients with severe dementia who are no longer able to give consent.
Euthanasia will only be a possibility when it is the sole option to end a child’s suffering. ‘We are talking about children who are so ill that death is unavoidable and they are expected to die soon,’ Kuipers said in his briefing.
Between five and 10 children a year are likely to be covered by the guidelines, the health ministry said.
A 2019 report by experts at the medical teaching hospitals of Groningen, Rotterdam and Amsterdam found that a small group of children may be suffering because doctors are afraid of the consequences of actions that could hasten their deaths.
The survey of 72 doctors found the vast majority thought it was acceptable to actively end the lives of children under 12 who were in acute suffering, at their parents’ request, and that a new law should allow this.
There were, however, no signs that euthanasia was being carried out with children under 12 in the study of 296 deaths in 2015, the survey said.
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