Dutch pensioner spared jail for helping mother to die

22nd October 2013, Comments 0 comments

A Dutch court on Tuesday spared an elderly man from jail for helping his 99-year-old mother commit suicide five years ago, on the grounds he acted "out of love".

The case of Albert Heringa, 77, shot to national attention following a documentary about his mother's 2008 suicide, broadcast in 2010.

The film showed his mother Maria telling her granddaughter "my life is complete", before swallowing a deadly cocktail of pills provided by her son.

As it announced its decision, the court in eastern Zutphen called for renewed debate about euthanasia, which has been legal in The Netherlands since 2002 but only under tight conditions.

The court ruled that Heringa was guilty of "assisting a suicide", a crime that carries a maximum three-year sentence or an 18,500 euro ($25,000) fine.

It added that Heringa "deliberately chose not to abide by the rules."

"But given the fact that the court is satisfied that he acted out of love for his mother, he will not be punished," it said in a statement.

Prosecutors had asked for a three month suspended sentence against Heringa.

The Netherlands and Belgium were the first two countries to legalise euthanasia over a decade ago.

Yearly around 3,300 people die by euthanasia in The Netherlands, a pro-mercy killing group said last year.

Strict criteria exist in Dutch law for patients who request assisted suicides.

Patients must be fully mentally alert when asking to die. Families cannot request a mercy killing for relatives unable to do so.

A doctor, who has to agree to perform the procedure, must get a second opinion from a colleague who in turn has to agree that the patient's illness was in a terminal stage.

Assisted suicide is then performed by infusion or injection of a sleep inducing drug, followed by a barbiturate to stop the patient's heart and breathing.

"This judgement comes at a time of medical advances and longer life-spans in which many people worry about their independence, maintaining their identity and quality of life," the court said.

"A social debate is needed on the issue," it added.

© 2013 AFP

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