A 61-year-old Dutch woman who was recently euthanized in The Netherlands at her request is receiving media attention and praise due to her decision to donate her organs in the process.

Dutch news sources called it a generous decision, with one newspaper running the headline, “Woman dies while saving five lives.”

Dicky Ringeling was recently diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis, leaving her with poor life expectancy.

Dicky Ringeling, of Zwijndrecht near Rotterdam, was recently diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis, leaving her with poor life expectancy. She decided she did not want to “suffer unbearably” and soon started to discuss euthanasia with her husband and two daughters.

A hospital worker, Ringeling had signed an organ donor card. But while euthanasia – in the present state of things in Holland – would probably not be refused, organ donation is a different matter altogether and the procedures are contradictory.

Most euthanasias in the Netherlands take place at the patient’s home. After the patient has received lethal drugs and died in the presence of his or her family doctor, another doctor intervenes to record the death, examine the corpse and verify that the procedure has been carried out in accordance with the law.

Organ donation, on the contrary, requires fast action: vital organs must be removed as soon as possible, before blood circulation and oxygenation have stopped altogether, in order to be usable for transplantation.

Mrs. Ringeling’s daughters helped her to overcome all these administrative and medical difficulties. After much discussion, it was decided that she would be euthanized in a hospital setting; the legal doctor would be present at the death and the body would be released to the operating team in less than five minutes after death. The story does not say how the point of death would be defined in this case: most probably right after the very first signs that the heart was no longer beating.

Dicky Ringeling spent three weeks in the hospice, saying “goodbye” to her family and friends, even joking with the medical staff. “Let’s keep it joyful”, she said. “At least my death will be useful.”

During this period she was examined and her kidneys, lungs, pancreas and liver were found to be in good enough condition for transplantation. She further decided to donate her brain for research on multiple sclerosis.

By the time fixed for her euthanasia a whole organization had been set up for the retrieval of Ringeling’s organs and for their transportation to hospitals where five gravely ill patients were in readiness to receive them.

Even in countries where euthanasia is legal, organ donation after euthanasia remains controversial due to ethical concerns: in particular fears that a push for more and better organs for transplant could lead to patients being pressured to choose euthanasia.

“I wonder how long it will be before elderly people who have ‘already had a good life’ start being eyed up by those with organ failure who are not yet ready to die and being accused covertly, or overtly, of selfishness for being unwilling to hand their fresh healthy organs over,” said prominent euthanasia opponent Peter Saunders following revelations that the practice of organ donation after euthanasia has become common in Belgium. 

Responding to another suggestion in a study that additional organ donations could be expected in Belgium from euthanasia patients with proper “public awareness,” well-known bioethics writer Wesley Smith wrote: “I can think of nothing more dangerous than making mentally ill and despairing disabled people believe their deaths have greater value than their lives. Well one thing, perhaps: Having a society accept the idea that it can benefit at the expense of people in desperate need of care–and whose care is very expensive.”