Netherlands contemplates expanding assisted suicide for people over 75 ‘tired of living’
July 27, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A draft law proposing the legalization of assisted suicide for people over 75 who are “tired of living” has been presented in the Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament by Pia Dijkstra, of the D66 progressive “social-liberal” party. While there is a relatively small chance that the proposed law will be able to cross all legislative hurdles – this usually takes at least nine months – before the present cabinet steps down, Dijkstra made clear that her main objective is to push the theme to the fore in order to be extensively discussed.
The idea of allowing people to choose to leave this life for personal reasons has been around for some time in the Netherlands. Since euthanasia became legal in 2001, pressure groups have been working to extend the scope of “chosen death” in the name of personal autonomy. People who consider their life to be “complete” should be allowed to put an end to it even when they do not comply with the legal conditions: “unbearable suffering,” either physical or psychological, due to a serious or terminal medical condition, absence of available treatment, no perspective of improvement of their condition.
The principle of assisted death for people who are “done with life” is gaining traction in the Netherlands. Four years ago, in 2016, it was the ruling Dutch cabinet that promoted a new provision in the euthanasia law, via a letter signed by Health Minister Edith Schippers and Justice Minister Ard van der Steur. The proposition never came to Parliament because of the general elections that were to take place one year later, and liberal as the Netherlands are, it shocked public opinion.
But lobbying has continued, in particular on the part of the National Association for a Chosen End of Life (NVVE) that had applauded the cabinet’s initiative.
Over the last years, the Dutch government has decided to consult the population before a similar proposition is examined. Commission Wijngaarden, as it is known, was created in 2017 to consult “senior citizens” to find out how many are actually “tired of living.” It appeared as a way of avoiding inevitable confrontations between Christian and Christian Democrat parties with more liberal parties in a country where forming a government is impossible without political alliances.
Second Chamber member Pia Dijkstra decided to accelerate the process, promising last September that she would “soon” present a draft law.
The government report was published last January. It concluded that fewer of the elderly are “done with life” than had been suggested by the measure’s promoters: some 10,000 people aged 55 and older, mostly from lower-class backgrounds, agreed that they are tired of living and had a deep-rooted “death wish.”
Pia Dijkstra decided that it was time to go ahead all the same; she waited for the end of lockdown due to the Chinese coronavirus before officially presenting a draft law because she found it “unfitting” to do so while the country was facing such a “grave crisis.”
In an interview with Algemeen Dagblad, Dijkstra said she decided to present her proposition despite the elections that will take place in March 2021 out of respect for D66’s electorate, which is “counting” on the party to promote assisted suicide during the present cabinet’s tenure. “Hard agreements have been made about this with VVD, CDA and ChristenUnie about this,” she insisted, naming the liberal and Christian parties of the ruling coalition of which D66 is a member.
Dijkstra’s draft law comes with a 45-page explanatory memoir underscoring that it is impossible to give a single definition of “completed life.” Mrs. Dijstra describes a general feeling of “letting go” from “the world, others and yourself” to a point of inner stress and revolt, and of the increasing population of old people – thanks to growing well-being and better healthcare – among whom the number of those who have had enough of life is also growing.
The law, if it were to be approved, would expand the existing euthanasia law by creating a situation where no medical grounds would be necessary in order to justify assisted suicide. Helping another person to kill him or herself would no longer entail penal sanctions under certain conditions. Even more alarmingly, a corps of specialized “end-of-life accompanists” would be created to verify those conditions and help their correspondent to die.
In a historic exposé, Dijkstra’s memoir described how the Dutch euthanasia law came into being. Several cases that reached the courts before the law was enacted included individuals who were not ill but “desperate” at the idea of continuing to live in a situation that would only deteriorate.
Dijkstra also comments on the January government report, underscoring the main common denominators of the will to live in those over age 55: these include “the pleasure of an agreeable home, independence and feeling free.” By contrast, those who are tired of living named “weariness of being” and “existential loneliness,” with “personal autonomy” as a justifier for being institutionally afforded help with taking one’s own life.
Later in the text, Dijkstra says that of course steps should be taken to help the elderly not to feel lonely, but she adds that “solidarity” should also include respecting their wish to “step out of life,” as the Dutch expression says.
The age of 75 as a threshold for obtaining assisted suicide was chosen because, according to the memoir, significantly more people beyond that age express tiredness of life and the will to die; probably it was also a way of reducing opposition to the proposed law.
Under its proposed conditions, any person over 75 would be able to file a request with an official “end-of-life accompanist” who would be charged with opening or facilitating a conversation that would, when possible, include the candidate’s near and dear ones.
The “end-of-life accompanist” would have the possibility of consulting the candidate’s family doctor and would be tasked with making sure that no pressure be exerted from the outside to encourage the candidate to choose death. The accompanist should also verify whether the death wish is well-established, unvarying, and made in full conscience, and whether other perspectives exist. But the elderly person would have the right to reject any offered help. Assisted suicide would only be available for Dutch citizens or people having lived in the Netherlands for at least two years.
These conversations – at least two – would take place in a lapse of at least two months and would only lead to assisted suicide after a consultation by the “end-of-life accompanist” with one of his or her “independent colleagues” who would also be required to have a conversation with the candidate.
Paperwork and signed documents would also be involved.
Once the assisted suicide would be approved the first “end-of-life accompanist” would be responsible for writing out a suicide drug and an anti-emetic prescription, to him or herself, that he or she would fetch from the drugstore, and would personally hand them over to the candidate at an agreed time, remaining to check that the drugs were properly swallowed, with or without the presence of family and friends.
The candidate would be allowed to step back at any time, in which case the “end-of-life accompanist” would personally return the drugs to the drugstore.
After the death, as in euthanasia cases, the accompanist would be required to report the death and give all documents and details relative to the suicide to the authorities: a new regional commission that would verify whether legal requirements were fulfilled.
Interestingly, even left-wing media in the Netherlands are questioning the advisability of a “tired of living” law, underscoring that such a law would put moral pressure on the elderly to choose death so as not to be a burden on society.
But transgressive laws have all been put in place by lobbying, repetition, and patience; the very fact of bringing the subject up is a way of making it more and more acceptable over time.