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Dutch minister favours suicide pill

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands -- Elderly people who are "tired of life" should be allowed to kill themselves with a suicide pill, the Dutch health minister has said.

"I am not against it, as long as it can be carefully enough regulated so that it only concerns very old people who have had enough of living," Els Borst told the NRC Handelsblad newspaper on Saturday.

Borst said a suicide pill should only be permitted, however, if the person administered it themselves and there was a test to ensure they really were tired of life and desperate to die, she said.

Her remarks come just days after the Dutch parliament made history by making euthanasia legal.

It voted on Tuesday to allow doctors to kill patients with terminal diseases who are suffering "unbearably" and if they request it has prompted angry protests.

Dutch euthanasia law
Dutch euthanasia law  

Although it recognised a practice tolerated in the Netherlands for over two decades, the decision parked outrage in some other countries, with comparisons to the policies of Nazi Germany which systematically killed handicapped adults and children.

Borst insisted that allowing suicide pills for the aged and world-weary was not euthanasia.

"Being tired of life has nothing to do with the euthanasia law, with medicine and doctors. You may be releasing someone from their suffering, but it is a suffering that has no link with illness or handicap," she said in the interview.

Borst said the subject was not a matter for the health minister, "but it could well be that a justice minister says: 'I want to allow people to end it all'."

She said she would be in favour of that, so long as the person could administer the pill themselves and there was a test to check they fulfilled the right criteria.

She cited the example of two 95-year-old people she had known. "They were bored stiff but, alas, not bored to death -- because that was indeed what they wanted most of all."

One of them had no family to speak of, Borst said. "If she had said 'I've got a pill here and I'm going to take it', I would certainly have been at peace with that."

The main opposition Christian Democrats (CDA) party was swift to express dismay at Borst's remarks.

"It's only a couple of days since the euthanasia law was voted in, and already the minister wants to go a step further," the Dutch news agency ANP quoted Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, CDA parliamentary party leader, as saying.

The Dutch believe legalising euthanasia will clear up a clouded area of law that had left open the possibility of doctors being prosecuted for murder.

The new law insists patients must be adults, have made a voluntary, well-considered and lasting request to die, must be facing a future of unbearable suffering and that there must be no reasonable alternative.

A second doctor must be consulted and life must be ended in a medically appropriate way.

The Vatican denounced the Dutch parliament's decision as an "aberrant" and "macabre" decision.

"We find it hard to believe that such a macabre choice can be seen as a 'civil' and 'humanitarian' one," the Vatican daily newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, wrote in an editorial.

"Killing a patient is a criminal act" and doctors conducting mercy killings are similar to "executioners."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Dutch Senate
Dutch Ministry of Justice
Christian Union
Cry for Life
The Vatican
Voluntary Euthanasia Society (UK)
International Task Force on Euthanasia

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