On 30 November 1993 a nine year political debate on euthanasia closed; the first chamber of the Dutch parliament ratified the law on undertaking, including euthanasia regulations. This political step concluded, for the time being at least, a legal, public, political and medical debate, which started in 1973, when a medical doctor was convicted for performing euthanasia on her mother. In a first effort in 1983, parliament failed to legalise euthanasia. In 1989 a new government introduced an initiative to improve the existing law in this regard. As a part of the process, empirical data on the extent of euthanasia in The Netherlands were required. Therefore, the Minister of Justice installed a committee. Its findings have been reported nationally and internationally (van der Maas et al, 1991a, 1991b); about 2,300 euthanasia cases in 1990, being 1.8% of all deaths. These empirical findings reduced the uncertainties about the extent of euthanasia, thereby providing a sound basis for the parliamentary decision-making process. Although by the current law euthanasia and assisted suicide still remain illegal, under strict guidelines for behaviour provided by the Ministry of Justice in November 1990 and distributed among physicians in January 1991, euthanasia can be exempted by the public prosecutor from criminal punishment on the basis of the ‘opportunity’ principle, this being the opportunity for the public prosecutor not to bring all reported crimes to court (Letter of the Minister of Justice to Parliament, 1990).
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