Dutch right-to-die group fights to widen legal euthanasia boundaries

To match feature DUTCH-EUTHANASIA

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) -A right-to-die group told judges on Monday that a Dutch law which allows physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands but criminalises others who help people end their own lives violates European human rights law and must be declared unlawful.

"We believe it should be possible to provide the means to be able to humanely end your own life," Jos van Wijk of Cooperative Last Will said in court.

Marion van Gerrevink, whose 22-year-old son took his own life in 2010, told judges she struggled with feelings that she let her son down because she couldn't help him find a humane and dignified way to die for fear of prosecution.

"He had to take that last step utterly alone," Gerrevink, one of the 29 plaintiffs who joined the case, said.

A lawyer for the cooperative said the case is strategic litigation aimed at forcing the Netherlands to change the laws.

They argue that the current ban on assisting suicide not overseen by medical professionals violated the right to self-determination and respect for private life enshrined in the European convention on human rights.

Lawyers for the Dutch state argued that the euthanasia laws strike good balance between the duty of the state to protect citizens, even from themselves, and individual autonomy.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide under very strict conditions and when overseen by medical professionals.

Assisting a suicide, or providing a means to commit suicide outside of the strict euthanasia criteria, is punishable with a jail term of up to three years.

Cooperative Last Will has been promoting a suicide powder it calls "Substance X" since 2018. There is a separate ongoing case before the Dutch courts against a member of the cooperative who is suspected of illegally assisting suicide by selling "Substance X" to at least 33 people.

A ruling is expected on Dec. 14, the judges said.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, editing by Ed Osmond and Bernadette Baum)