Draft legislation on widening euthanasia access in the Netherlands is blocked

Government’s highest advisory body says proposed Bill lacks adequate safeguards

Draft legislation aimed at dramatically broadening the availability of euthanasia in the Netherlands, where it is already legal in tightly controlled circumstances, has effectively been blocked by the government's highest advisory body on the grounds that it lacks adequate safeguards.

A Bill first tabled by former D66 MP Pia Dijkstra in July 2020 would have made assisted suicide available to citizens over 75 who declared themselves irrevocably "tired of life" – but who were not physically ill enough to meet the stringent criteria currently set for euthanasia.

In its assessment of the draft Bill, the Council of State, which advises both the government and the houses of parliament on new legislation and governance, recommends, in unusually blunt terms, that the Bill “should not proceed in its current form”.

The government, it said, had an obligation to protect its citizens against “involuntary, hasty or ill-informed decisions” about ending their lives, just as it also had a duty to prevent abuse of the legislation as it stood.

In its view, the council said, this meant that any new legislation needed to include safeguards in the form of “guarantees” that the legislation would prevent individuals from ending their lives unless they were certain that they wished to do so.

Similarly there needed to be safeguards to ensure that the wish to die was not connected to any medical condition – or to any other personal problems that might be capable of being resolved.

On that basis, it said, “the duty of care clauses in this draft law are not sufficient to meet these guarantees”.

The bottom line, it concluded, was that such were its objections to the draft legislation that “it should not be considered” by parliament “unless it has been amended”.

Given such a strongly worded recommendation, it would be highly unusual for the government to proceed with the legislation, given that Ms Dijkstra is no longer an MP and there is opposition to the Bill among coalition parties, particularly Christian Union but including D66 .

The “tired of life” controversy raises echoes of “Drion’s pill” – an end-of-life tablet proposed at the start of the 1990s by retired supreme court judge and euthanasia campaigner Huib Drion, who recommended it should be prescription-based, free of charge and available to everyone over 70.

As recently as 2015 the Dutch voluntary euthanasia society campaigned to make “Drion’s pill” a reality but the initiative faltered on medical, ethical and legal grounds.

While still an MP, Ms Dijkstra, a former TV news anchor, justified her draft Bill by saying: “There is a group of elderly people who find their lives finished. They say: I go to sleep every night in the hope that I won’t wake up.”