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Euthanasia Now Legal In Netherlands

The Netherlands becomes the first country to legally allow mercy killings and assisted suicides when its euthanasia law takes effect Monday.

The law, enacted last year, allows doctors to help end the lives of patients who have an unbearable terminal illness, but only under stringent procedures.

Passage of the bill, which was opposed by conservative Christian political parties, ended a 30-year debate. But some parties said it did not go far enough, and have made it an issue in the campaign for May 15 national elections.

Democrats 66, the party of Health Minister Els Borst, who guided the bill through parliament, says the next government should consider the introduction of a suicide pill for patients who are healthy but simply tired of life.

The euthanasia law formalized a practice discreetly used in Dutch hospitals and homes for decades. In 1993, parliament adopted guidelines under which euthanasia could be conducted without fear of prosecution, even though it remained illegal.

Even now, doctors may be punished if they fail to meet the law's strict codes.

Under the law, a patient must be undergoing irremediable and unbearable suffering, be aware of all other medical options and have sought a second professional opinion. The request must be made voluntarily, persistently and independently while the patient is of sound mind. Doctors are not supposed to suggest it as an option. The law requires patients to be legal residents of the Netherlands.

It also allows patients to leave a written agreement to an assisted death if they become incapacitated, giving doctors the right to use their own discretion. An independent commission would review cases to ensure the guidelines were followed.

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