Dorothy Cummings McLean

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Fear, rather than health, drive married couple to be euthanized together

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

DIDHAM, Netherlands, August 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — An elderly Dutch couple’s euthanasia deaths are being reported as a beautiful end to a 65-year marriage, but it was fear as much as love that drove them to end their lives.

Nic and Trees Elderhorst, both 91, were voluntarily put to death on July 7 in their hometown of Didham. They died holding hands, surrounded by family, after a six-month bureaucratic process. Their daughters told a Dutch newspaper that “dying together was their deepest wish.”

Double euthanasias are unusual in the Netherlands because a couple rarely both meet the legal criteria at the same time. Currently, however, the Netherlands is seeking to legalize voluntary euthanasia for anyone over age 75.

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition told LifeSiteNews that the Netherlands wants to use as its standard for permissible euthanasia the concept of a  “completed life.”

“The reality is that legalizing euthanasia means that doctors have been given the right, in law, to kill,” he said. “This story accentuates that fact that once a society crosses the line and approves the killing of people by physicians or others, the only remaining question is, who are doctors permitted to kill?”

The story began in 2012 when Nic Elderhorst suffered a stroke that left him with reduced mobility, a plethora of health problems and frequent visits to the hospital. According to the Gelderlander newspaper, he was kept alive by antibiotics. Shortly after his stroke, both Nic and Trees signed “euthanasia declarations” (living wills).

Soon Trees found that her mobility and memory were deteriorating. Although her children, friends and neighbors helped, Trees struggled to take care of her husband. Moreover, the couple was increasingly afraid that the death of one would result in the removal of the other to a care home. Thus, the couple collaborated with their children to apply for voluntary euthanasia.

The difficulty was that Trees, who seemed otherwise in good health, did not qualify for euthanasia under Dutch law. In Holland, a patient must be experiencing “unbearable suffering” — physical or psychological — without any prospect of improvement to be euthanized.

However, a doctor diagnosed Trees with vascular dementia, and she was able to submit a “concrete application” to a euthanasia and assisted-suicide clinic called the Levenseindekliniek.

The Levenseindekliniek was established in 2012 by Holland’s Right to Die society. According to its website, the Levenseindekliniek specializes in “those patients whose requests for assisted dying are almost always denied [by other doctors]: psychiatric patients, people with dementia, or patients with non-fatal diseases.”  

As under Dutch law, a person who wishes to be euthanized must understand what they are doing, and so the family wanted to act quickly before Trees’ dementia advanced.

"Soon it became clear that we could not wait too long," their daughters told the Gelderlander. "The geriatrist stated that our mother was still mentally competent. However, in the event of death of our father, she could become completely disoriented and taken into a nursing home — something that she absolutely did not want. Dying together was their deepest wish.”

Death, apparently, was preferable to the nursing home, and so the two died quietly together.

“They gave each other a big kiss and passed away, confidently holding hands, according to their own wish,” said one of their daughters.

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Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report.  Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013).  Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband. 

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