Friday, December 23, 2016

Expanding Euthanasia in The Netherlands

This article was written by Alex van Vuuren and published in the Schreew om Leven newsletter


In October the Dutch government came with a new initiative for a law regarding euthanasia. This new law will expand the existing legal euthanasia practice in The Netherlands, but will be a separate law. A parliamentary committee earlier this year however had clearly stated that an expansion of the existing Euthanasia Act was not desirable.

The new term being used for the expansion of euthanasia is “completed life”. This term is used for persons who are healthy but have a desire for the ending of their life. This would only count for some elderly persons, who see the end of life approaching and prefer not to become dependent on the help of others, but an age limit is not mentioned in the proposal.

The new initiative has the support of the majority in parliament. The government stated its purpose to give time for discussion with medical professionals and will probably come with a law proposal after the elections on March 15, 2017. Outside of the government, the liberal party D’66 is the most supportive of expansion of euthanasia. On Sunday, December 16, D’66 announced its own law proposal for “completed life”. They have clearly done this to speed up the process and have a law in place before the elections. One difference with the government proposal is that there is a age limit of 75 years and older.

Among the many problems with these new proposals is the term “completed life”. It is even more cleverly designed than “euthanasia – good death”, because it combines a positive word (completed) with the word “life”, while meaning death. Just this year the result of scientific research on “completed life” was presented. Els van Wijngaarden did in-depth interviews with 25 elderly persons with a death wish who felt that their life was completed. Many do not feel the positive experience of a fully lived life, but are full of remorse or sorrow, or are afraid of becoming dependent. Their self-chosen ending of life can be seen as an escape.

Another fundamental problem is the idea of autonomy. This has been the core of the critique of the parliamentary committee of experts. Autonomy is a dangerous foundation for a law. In all the debates, the autonomous decision of a rational person is put forward as an argument for the expansion of euthanasia. However, what can be more irrational than making an end to life and thereby an end to the possibility of ever making another autonomous decision? It is clear, that life and autonomy go along together.

Mark Rutte, the prime minister is responsible for the new euthanasia initiative

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