Legality of Euthanasia in The Netherlands

by Devin Lind

Editor’s note: contains detailed explanations of legal practices of euthanasia and eugenics.

In the Netherlands it is legal to euthanize children up to the age of 12. There were 22 reported cases between 1997 and 2004, and all cases concerned newborns with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

For the Dutch public prosecutor, the termination of a child’s life (under age 12) is acceptable if four requirements were properly fulfilled:

  1. The presence of hopeless and unbearable suffering
  2. The consent of the parents to termination of life
  3. Medical consultation having taken place
  4. Careful execution of the termination

I have found no clear definition of the term “hopeless and unbearable suffering,” but to me it sounds quite subjective. Thankfully, this is not legal anywhere else. But still, it’s one country too many.

When I was born with spina bifida 35 years ago, I was one of about 75 children born with SB that year. Now, that number has dropped to 22. In part, perhaps, due to people eating more folic acid, but that does not explain such a massive drop. Turns out that around 80 of the fetuses with spina bifida are aborted after week 16.

In Sweden, we’ve had free abortions since 1975. What this means is that you can have an abortion up to the 18th week of pregnancy. Most abortions are performed during this period. After week 18, the Legal Advisory Council (LAC) of The National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden (NBHW) has to approve of the abortion and there have to be special reasons. After week 22, no abortions are performed as the child is usually expected to survive, if born. 53 percent of all approved abortions and 46 percent of the total number of cases to the LAC in 2002 were due to the fetus having a disability/illness.

For over 35 years, I’ve heard people say: ”If I found out I was expecting a child with Down syndrome/spina bifida/a disability, I’d have an abortion.” In my teens, I used to say that “if I found out the baby we were expecting was NFN*, I’d abort it.” (* NFN = “Normal for now”, i. e., not having a disability). People, also NFN, were usually shocked, some even outraged, by my statement. To them, deciding to abort a ‘normal’ child and welcoming a child that was ‘less than’ was just too foreign a concept.

And despite it being illegal, so called ‘mercy killings’ still occur.

On March 6, 2012, Elizabeth Hodgins shot and killed her 22-year-old son George, who had autism, before killing herself. Media soon painted a picture of her as the victim – that taking care of her disabled child was so difficult that it was no wonder she let him die, and then killed herself.

As if this was not enough, those of us who do make it, or those of us who were not born with our disability, sometimes hear people without disabilities say TO OUR FACE: “If I had/got a disability, I wouldn’t want to live.”   Which is, you know, really rude. This also reflects how many people without disabilities see those of us who do have disabilities – as less than, not viable for life. Not a ‘worthy, good life’, anyway. Whatever that is. Still, this is one of the major reasons why we are aborted, ‘euthanized’ – MURDERED.

A person who has lived most of their life without a disability but then finds themself living with a disability often becomes depressed. Now, this is understandable. Life changes can be very challenging, and without the right support they can be hard to deal with. This is why getting that right support at the right time is crucial, so that you don’t have to spend a year and a half in the hospital because you can’t get the personal care attendants you need after becoming quadriplegic and end up in a death clinic in Switzerland (where assisted suicide is legal) because you don’t want to live anymore.

In Sweden, there was a case last year that ended up in the NBHW where a woman with neurofibromatosis that could not breathe without a ventilator wanted to cease her treatment, i. e. shut the ventilator off. Ceasing treatment is legal in Sweden, but since shutting a ventilator off often means the patient will suffocate and die, there was some debate and confusion whether or not this was, in fact, euthanasia.

One could claim that as an adult, it’s up to you to decide what to do with your life. But so many of us never get to make that decision for ourselves, it is made for us, ‘in our best interest’.

With the right support, people with disabilities can lead ‘normal’, good lives. We just need to be given that right support. But instead, we are seen as sufferers, burdens, ‘less thans’, whose lives seem so unbearable to the NFN majority that they’d rather see us dead.

As a result, the world has been robbed of people like George Hodgins, Tracy Latimer and countless others who never made the headlines.