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Legalizing Euthanasia

Just days after the Netherlands became the first nation to make euthanasia legal, its health minister proposed taking it further today by recommending the use of a suicide pill. CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton reports.

Sixty-five-year-old Petra Brockmoller knows how and when she wants to die: not in the last throes of her untreatable cancer, but at a time of her own choosing, when she's fully conscious and still able to make her goodbyes.

"I think quality of life is more important than quantity, and I prefer to die when, let's say, I'm 68, really having done everything that I still wanted to do," says Brockmoller, a cancer patient.

That's a choice patients and doctors will legally have in the Netherlands if they meet the guidelines of the new law. One of the rules stipulates that a patient's suffering must be unbearable and untreatable and that a second doctor must agree on the prognosis. The request for death must also be voluntary.

A landmark Dutch documentary brought the debate into the open in 1994 by showing a doctor administering a lethal injection. At the time, this was technically a criminal act.

Most Dutch doctors say they are relieved that euthanasia will now be entirely open and regulated by law.

"I'm the last one who wants to play God, but I'm very glad when there are legal opportunities to help a patient," says Jap Van Der Sloot, a cardiologist. "There will be a time when the quality of life is not good enough anymore."

The gray area of judgment is what most worries the Dutch minority opposing euthanasia.

"Many of the criteria which are in the law are not very clear," says Andre Rouvout, of the Dutch Christian Union Party, who fears that the law will bring about "euthanasia tourism" to Holland. "People who really want to have their lives ended [will] come over to Holland just to get euthanasia," he says.

The government says that will not happen--that candidates for euthanasia must be Dutch residents who have long relationships with their doctors. Brockmoller is one such example.

"After you're born and grown up, you have to make all your own decisions in life," she says. "Then suddenly, at the end of your life other people start deciding what they think is right, and well, I don't agree with that."

Petra has a few more years to think about it. But she is glad she has a choice.

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