March 21, 2018 / 5:10 PM / a month ago

Prosecutors open investigation into Dutch group promoting 'suicide powder’

THE HAGUE, March 21 (Reuters) - Dutch prosecutors said on Wednesday they had launched a criminal investigation into a group that has been advising people how to kill themselves with a “suicide powder”, after it announced plans to provide the substance to members.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in the Netherlands 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.

Prosecutors said in a statement they would look into the association calling itself the “Final Wish” cooperative and had ordered it to cease all activities.

The group said in September it would make a so-called suicide powder available to some registered members. It grabbed headlines this month after a 19-year-old Dutch woman killed herself using a substance believed to be the same as the one the association is referring to.

The substance is reportedly made with legally available ingredients used to preserve food and combat bacteria and moulds in laboratories. Prosecutors said the group, which promotes the powder as “Substance X”, had plans to provide it to roughly 1,000 members.

In 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, there were more than 6,000 reported cases of euthanasia or medically assisted suicide in the Netherlands. That makes up roughly 4 percent of all deaths that year in the Netherlands.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in the Netherlands only if carried out by doctors. Strict oversight laws state that a patient must first have to be found to be suffering unbearably, with no chance of improvement. The request must be made repeatedly and when the patient is of sound mind.

Every case must be checked by a second doctor before a patient dies, and reviewed by an independent panel of experts.

There is an ongoing discussion in the Netherlands about widening euthanasia criteria to allow elderly people who feel their life has been “completed” to seek assisted suicide.

Polls last year showed 62 percent of Dutch people support a law making that possible, with strong opposition from Christian parties. (Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Peter Graff)

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