Churches and other religious groups are cooperating in a last-ditch attempt to stop The Netherlands becoming the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia.

Officials representing more than 50 religious and social organizations have signed a petition calling for a government bill on euthanasia to be rejected by the Senate. On March 13 the petition was presented to parliamentary officials in the Dutch capital, The Hague.

Signatories include Muslim and Jewish religious leaders as well as Christians. To underline the wide diversity of the signatories, the petition's principal statement is accompanied by separate declarations in which various organizations explain their particular objections to euthanasia.

The bill on euthanasia was approved with a big majority on November 28 last year by the Dutch parliament's Second Chamber, but has yet to be passed by the First Chamber (the Senate) before coming into force. That vote, due to take place April 10, is generally considered to be a mere formality—opinion polls have shown that a clear majority of Dutch people supports the proposed law.

Mercy killing has been tolerated for many years in The Netherlands, but it remains illegal. Doctors assisting in euthanasia are, at least in theory, liable to prosecution.

The new law will make it legal to end a patient's life, subject to certain criteria. The patient must be suffering continual, unbearable pain; have repeatedly asked for help to die; and a second medical opinion must be sought.

The new law will also allow patients to prepare a written request for euthanasia in advance, giving doctors the right to use their own discretion if patients become too ill to decide for themselves.

The practice of euthanasia is not expected to change much when the new law comes into effect. However, the government hopes that doctors will become more open about their involvement in mercy killings.

The petition claims that the proposed legislation fails to provide sufficient safeguards for the protection of life. "This bill leads us to a society where euthanasia will increasingly come to be seen as normal medical treatment. Although of different backgrounds, we share the opinion that the law-makers must not create any legal exemptions from punishment for [those who apply] euthanasia," it states.

An evangelical pro-life foundation, Schreeuw om Leven (Cry for Life), has called on its supporters to travel to The Hague on April 10 to pray during the Senate debate. The foundation has also asked clergy to raise the issue of euthanasia in church services on Sunday, April 1 and to pray that the bill will not be approved.

Article continues below

Another signatory, the Uniting Protestant Churches in The Netherlands (Samen op weg-kerken), states in its appendix to the petition: "Because God has given us life, euthanasia cannot be a right, but at most an emergency measure."

The church body expressed concern at the "creeping change in thinking about the value of life and the esteem in which infirm people are held." A federation of the two main Reformed churches and the smaller Lutheran church, the Uniting Protestant Churches is the nation's biggest Protestant body, representing 2.74 million Christians. Its secretary-general, Bas Plaisier, acknowledged that opinions on euthanasia differed within the Uniting Protestant Churches. "But I have the distinct feeling that this petition has wide support."

Echoing the leader of Dutch Catholics, Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, who last week accused the government cabinet of sidelining the church, Plaisier said: "The [government] coalition does not see the churches as important players in this sort of ethical issue."

Last November, after the Second Chamber approved the bill, Plaisier commented: "A boundary has been crossed that actually should never have been crossed."

Presenting the petition on behalf of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, Bishop Antonius Hurkmans, said: "There are better solutions to safeguard the human dignity of suffering and dying, even when the suffering is unbearable and seems hopeless. … The bill touches on the foundations of our society." The Roman Catholic Church is the biggest church in The Netherlands.

Other signatories include the Council of Mosques in The Netherlands, SKIN, which represents 35 Protestant, Pentecostal, Anglican and Orthodox denominations, The Netherlands Patients' Association, The Netherlands Doctors' Union and the Foundation of Christian Hospices in The Netherlands.

Related Elsewhere

Other media coverage of the Dutch bill includes:
Holland is first country to legalise euthanasia - The Independent, London (Nov. 29, 2000)

Netherlands Moves to Legalize Assisted Suicide - The Washington Post (Nov. 29, 2000)

Dutch Becoming First Nation to Legalize Assisted Suicide - The New York Times (Nov. 29, 2000)

Holland: Bending the rules? - BBC (Nov. 28, 2000)

For other recent news and opinion pieces on euthanasia, see or Yahoo's full coverage area.

Books and Culture took on the euphemisms that surround euthanasia in "The Subjunctive that Killed Hugh Finn | Our language about what a patient 'would' want turns sympathy into empathy, pity into murder."

Article continues below

Previous Christianity Today coverage of euthanasia includes:

Death by Default | Few seem to have noticed the euthanasia movement's latest gains. A Christianity Today Editorial. (Feb. 15, 2001)

Severe Mercy in Oregon | How two dying patients dealt with a new right: When to die. (June 14, 1999)

Hospice Care Hijacked? | A bottom-line, cost-efficient mentality obscures the movement's original Christian vision. (March 2, 1998)

What Really Died in Oregon | The state's voter-approved suicide law represents more than an extreme belief in personal autonomy. (January 12, 1998)

'Right to Die' Debate Returns to States | (August 11, 1997)

Deadly Compassion | Some support physician-assisted suicide out of fear of a lonely, pain-filled death. Here are four professionals who are making the dying a part of the church's ministry. (June 16, 1997)