- The death of a Dutch teenager, which was misreported as a case of legal euthanasia, has shed light on Europe’s euthanasia laws.
- Noa Pothoven died after she stopped eating and drinking. Her previous request for euthanasia had been denied.
- The Netherlands and Belgium are the only country where minors can request for a doctor to terminate their lives.
- The children and teenagers need to be suffering unbearable pain that cannot be eased for their request to be granted. In Belgium the youngest euthanasia patient was nine years old.
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The death of a Dutch 17-year-old, which was widely misreported as a case of legal euthanasia, has put the spotlight on European countries where children can request a physician-assisted death.
Noa Pothoven, who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia after being raped, died Wednesday after she stopped eating and drinking.
Though international media reported that Pothoven was euthanized, her friends said in a statement that this was not the case. An end-of-life clinic in The Hague had previously refused Pothoven’s request because she was too young, the teenager had told local media.
The Netherlands is one of two countries in the world, along with Belgium, where minors can request for a doctor to terminate their lives. Euthanasia is also legal in Luxembourg, though only for adults.
Here is a rundown of European countries’ euthanasia laws.
The Netherlands: Legal from age 12, in extreme cases
The Netherlands was the first in the world to legalize euthanasia in 2002. Dutch physicians are allowed to give certain patients over 12 years of age a lethal dose drugs at their request.
For doctors not to get prosecuted, they have to be convinced that the patient’s request is voluntary, and that their “suffering is unbearable and without prospect of improvement.”
The latest figures show that 4.4% of deaths in 2017 were from euthanasia. Most of the 6,585 patients had incurable cancer. More than 80% were older than 60.
Since the euthanasia law was enforced more than a decade ago, 11 minors had their requests accepted. They need the backing of their legal guardian until they are 16.
Belgium: Legal for children in “hopeless” agony, however young
Belgium legalized euthanasia for adults a few months after the Netherlands. In 2014, it also started allowing minors – including children under 12 – to request an assisted death. The youngest to die this way was nine.
The request is granted if the minors are in a “hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term.”
Last year, 2357 people in Belgium died from euthanasia, according to government data. Like in the Netherlands, the majority were older patients – less than 2% were under 40.
Another report by the Belgium’s federal euthanasia commission shows that three minors were euthanized since the procedure became legal for all ages.
The oldest patient was 17 years old. But the others were 11 and 9, making them the first children under 12 to die from legal euthanasia in the world.
These were the minors’ conditions in no particular order: Muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, and glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer that starts in the brain.
Luxembourg: Legal, but only for adults
The tiny Western European nation made euthanasia legal for adults in 2009. Since then, 71 people have died with the procedure.
Switzerland: “Assisted suicide,” but not technically euthanasia
While euthanasia is illegal in Switzerland, the country allows physician- assisted suicide. It has become known as a place where people unable to end their lives in their own country can go to die.
In assisted suicides, the doctor gives the patient the fatal drug, but the patient must administer it alone.
Switzerland’s assisted suicide organizations, which have been operating since the early 1980s, are also the only ones to accept foreign patients. Critics have attacked the clinics from profiting from what they call “suicide tourism.”