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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Dutch euthanasia activists send ‘educational kits’ to high school students

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

AMSTERDAM, September 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A secondary school in Amsterdam was the first ever to use a new "educational kit" developed by the Dutch "Voluntary End of Life Association" (NVVE) on September 3, the annual "Living Will Day" in the Netherlands. The propaganda package was officially presented at the Hyperion Lyceum by NVVE's new president, Robert Schurink. The kit was created in order to supply facts, figures, and other information about euthanasia to Dutch high school students, who are required to conduct debates about contemporary issues. Euthanasia is currently the subject that is chosen most often.

Far from being a neutral presentation – even though the "pros and cons" of euthanasia from religious and other viewpoints are rapidly discussed – the educational kit unashamedly pleads for euthanasia and aims to make it acceptable to young people. Many would call it a propaganda tool.

The NVVE's aim is to supply the educational kit to teachers and students who, it says, often turn to the association with questions when working on projects, either in social studies or Dutch language courses, due to a lack of information. In the case of the Hyperion Lyceum, an elite secondary school that opened its doors in 2011, the educational team welcomed a team from the NVVE, and pupils were made to discover the kit and corresponding website during a 5th-grade language lesson.

No information is available to date on the number of high schools who will officially be using the material, but it is easily accessible on the internet and can be used by any pupil who is working on a project on euthanasia.

The Dutch school system is pluralistic: besides a network of state schools, a wide variety of special or denominational schools exist and are equally funded by the state as long as they meet certain requirements as regards security, the curriculum, and preparation for graduation exams. The Ministry of Education has the authority to inspect all schools.

The Hyperion Lyceum, where the presentation took place, is a privately founded, publicly funded, non-denominational school that aims to form "tomorrow's critical citizens," many of whom plan to join university after graduating. Yearly tuition fees are less than $500 a year. To date, there has been no protest, official or unofficial, regarding the NVVE's intervention.

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A look at the NVVE's educational kit shows its strong bias in favor of euthanasia and chosen death. It's called "Euthanasie Doodnormaal" in Dutch. "Euthansia: dead-normal" gives an exact idea of its contents.

The kit aims to answer questions such as the following:

  • "What is euthanasia?"
  • "What are the six 'careful' requirements" for legal euthanasia?
  • "How is it performed?"
  • "What do religions think about euthanasia?"

A special section on dementia explains how anyone who does not want to live with this condition should raise the subject with his family physician in order to establish a living will, indicating under what precise circumstances he does not want to remain alive.

The issue of psychic suffering is also raised: while a death wish can be the result of a mental illness, the document says, psychiatrists in the Netherlands have clear guidelines allowing them to determine whether euthanasia should be administered or not under these circumstances.

All in all, the educational kit and website aim to show euthanasia as a reasonable and acceptable practice. The words "Euthanasia: dead-normal" head every page and are visible in all sections of the website.

The most spectacular and persuasive elements of the website – as shown to the Hyperion Lyceum's students on Thursday during classes – are a series of short films showing people who were or who are in one way or another involved with euthanasia. Their stories were chosen because of their "appeal" for young people, the NVVE explains: they are young or at most middle-aged. All have come to terms with "chosen death," or euthanasia.

Mirte, 17, witnessed her own grandmother's death by euthanasia when she was only 10 years old. She speaks of her "anger" with her "Oma's" choice, her father's tears, her memories of a difficult moment. She explains that while she was not aware that her grandmother was unwell or suffering, she now fully accepts that decision and, with hindsight, remembers the event, when the whole family was reunited, as a "beautiful" one. The word "beautiful" is repeated over and again.

Nina, 35, calm and collected, tells of her ongoing battle against cancer and explains that she is unwilling to accept certain kinds of suffering that would and probably will leave her bedridden and helpless. She shows her "living will," explaining how she decided to make a euthanasia request when she heard that her cancer would certainly come back one day; it contains a list of ailments and situations where she expects her doctor to procure euthanasia so that she can retain some form of personal decision even when all seems lost. For instance, she does not want to be in coma for "more than 12 weeks" because the risk of suffering brain damage is much higher beyond that. She does not hide that she intends her talk as an incentive to make a living will at any age: "I have cancer, but for some people it will be a snowboard or a surf accident," she says.

A doctor who regularly performs euthanasia is the "hero" of the third short film. He says that accompanying his patients to such an end is "part of the job," a responsibility that should not be shirked. He describes not his doubts – he has none about the issue, he explains – but his emotional difficulties when going to perform euthanasia. Now he will usually go accompanied by another doctor to alleviate the stress and to help out with the "solitude" he feels at those moments, adding that he feels as if a burden has been lifted from his shoulders once he has performed the act, as if he has done his "duty." Sharing those very "intimate" moments with his patients and their loved ones, he says, is a "privilege."

The most poignant film is the one about Priscilla, the "night-moth." A three-minute clip tells the story of the 26-year-old's decision to die so as not to go through the same suffering as her mother, who died of the hereditary illness that she passed on to her daughter. The story was made into a docu-film: a team was present throughout Priscilla's last months and even at her deathbed, recording her goodbyes and last words – but also her last birthday party, on the eve of her euthanasia, in a night club in Amsterdam. The short extract shown on "Euthanasie Doodnormaal" underscores the acceptance of Priscilla's friends and family while she herself appears happy and serene. The last image shows her tombstone, with the inscription Carpe diem, "Seize the day."

Overwhelmingly, the "student's guide to euthanasia" brushes over any moral and ethical concerns young people may have, lingering on the "beautiful" aspects of a chosen "end of life" and the liberty it gives, with death being shown as the only answer to all types of suffering.

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