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Former Dutch health minister Els Borst, who pushed for key euthanasia law, is found dead at 81

In this photo taken Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, Els Borst, front right, applauds after a speech from Alexander Pechtold, front left, during a D66 party congress in Amsterdam. Els Borst, a former health minister who drafted the Netherlands' 2002 law permitting euthanasia, has been found dead in her garage on Monday night, police said Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. She was 81. Utrecht police spokesman Thomas Aling told state broadcaster NOS that police had not ruled out a natural cause of death, an accident or a crime, but had no reason to suspect a crime. She is survived by three children. (AP Photo/Jiri Buller)

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In this photo taken Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, Els Borst, front right, applauds after a speech from Alexander Pechtold, front left, during a D66 party congress in Amsterdam. Els Borst, a former health minister who drafted the Netherlands' 2002 law permitting euthanasia, has been found dead in her garage on Monday night, police said Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. She was 81. Utrecht police spokesman Thomas Aling told state broadcaster NOS that police had not ruled out a natural cause of death, an accident or a crime, but had no reason to suspect a crime. She is survived by three children. (AP Photo/Jiri Buller)

AMSTERDAM - Dutch police say the country's former health minister — a woman who drafted the nation's landmark 2002 law permitting euthanasia — has been found dead in her garage. They have ruled out natural causes.

In a statement, Utrecht police said Tuesday that Els Borst, 81, was found by a friend early Monday evening.

After an inquest was inconclusive, police sent her body for a full autopsy to determine the cause of death. Police say they expect that she died either as the result of "an accident or possibly a crime."

Her house in Bilthoven, a suburb of Utrecht, was cordoned off Tuesday and investigators could be seen searching inside it.

Borst was seen in good spirits as recently as Saturday, at a function for her centrist D66 political party.

She was among the foremost women in Dutch politics in recent decades, a medical academic who served as health minister from 1994 to 2002. One of the first Dutchwomen to reach high political office, she held the title of "minister of state" — one of a handful given diplomatic passports who are allowed to represent the country internationally.

The Netherland's euthanasia law, which codified longstanding practice, allows euthanasia when a terminally ill person requests it, is suffering unbearably and has no chance of recovery. Two doctors must agree.

Borst defended the policy at home and abroad as humane, despite protests and fierce criticism from religious groups.

"I hope that other governments will find the courage to follow suit," she said in 2001 after the lower house of Parliament approved the law.

In the past decade, the majority of Dutch voters who support euthanasia has grown.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte praised Borst on Tuesday as "a wise professional, with clear and considered standpoints, who stood her ground."

"She won people over with her openness, mildness and honesty," he said.

Last year, while trying to prevent a measles epidemic in the Dutch Calvinist bible belt, she wrote an opinion piece in newspaper Algemeen Dagblad asking pastors and churchgoers to get vaccinated.

"If everything is God's will, then so is the invention of the vaccine, just like the seatbelt," she said.

In an interview with the NRC newspaper in 2001, Borst acknowledged that she was not opposed in principle to a suicide pill for "very aged people who are finished with life."

"(But) we have to have a thorough societal discussion of this subject," she told the paper.

She is survived by three children.

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