Tue Feb 9th, 2010 at 08:51:17 AM EST
New discussion is brewing in the Netherlands to legalize assisted suicide, or euthanasia, for the elderly. Get ready for (American) conservatives proclaiming about the increasing Dutch perfidies and Holocaust parallels.
After all, since April 2002 euthanasia is an acceptable practice in the Netherlands. The crafted law works through “No, unless” principles: euthanasia is still a criminal offence, however, doctors who practice euthanasia are exempt from prosecution but only if they adhere to specific criteria. One of those criteria is that the person involved is incurably ill, suffering and has no further prospects of recovery.
But the Dutch euthanasia law says nothing about assisted suicide for people who prefer to choose their own time of death, and who are not ill. In those conditions, assisted suicide of anyone not explicitly under medical treatment will be considered a criminal offense. A new citizen initiative, coined “Out of Free Will”, was recently launched with the aim to be debated in Parliament. Before the proposal can be placed on the diary of Parliament it will need the support of at least 40.000 supporting signatures.
'Right to die' for elderly back at centre of Dutch debate - NRC Handelsblad
In an interview in the office of Dick Swaab (65), a leading member of the group and the managing director of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam, three of the initiative’s prominent supporters explained why they felt suicide assistance should be made legal. Former minister and self-described feminist Hédy d’Ancona (72) said arguing the right to choose one’s time of death was a natural extension of her lifelong battle for emancipation. Legal scholar Eugène Sutorius (63) said he considered the right a cultural matter, and that he was looking for freedom to face death “in a stoic manner”, without fear of a legal system that qualified assisted suicide as a crime or the dread of ending up in a care facility resembling a prison. For neurologist Swaab, death is a rather straightforward matter. “Throughout the animal kingdom, individuals are simply replaced, rather than patched up endlessly,” he explained. Aging constitutes nothing more than “cells wearing through use,” Swaab said. His argument: when you feel you have no more life left in you, you should be able to say so, and act on it.
All three expressed enthusiasm about ageing. Everything becomes easier to put into perspective as time passes, they said. Sutorius called it an “immense pleasure”. D’Ancona referred to it as “a great phase of life.” But they also expressed fear of what is still to come. D’Ancona said the knowledge she would be unable to end her life when she wanted to left her with a “nagging feeling”. She said it took some of the enjoyment out of what was otherwise a pleasurable phase of her life. Sutorius too feared a moment would soon come when he would come to experience the drawbacks of ageing. “I do not want to outlive myself,” he said.
Suicide is not criminalized in the Netherlands, so one could still wonder: what’s the fuss? If people want to step out of life, they can. The trouble of course is that dying can be a messy affair, suicide doubly so. And as far as I'm concerned, I think there rest considerable taboos on the subject of preferring death above life at one point.
But assisted suicide, whether the assisting consists of aiding, giving directions, or delivering death-inducing medication, is in all shapes or forms considered criminal. The initiative now proposes to decriminalise this aspect for people - but only for those older than 70 years (an age cut-off which has been chosen somewhat arbitrarily). It is further proposed that:
this task be carried out by specially trained and certified nurses, psychologists or spiritual professionals who could verify the request for assisted suicide in a series of conversations with the elderly patient. Only after a second health care professional has confirmed the patient’s death wish would he be provided with lethal drugs. The sam caretaker would finally supervise the patient as he administrates these to himself.
The group paints the following scenario: The specialists should ensure that the patient is of sound mind and that his or her request is explicit, logical and consistent. The suicide assistants must make sure the death wish is more than a rash impulse, the product of depression or the symptom of another illness, and that the patient has considered the consequences of his actions for those that will survive him. Once the patient has taken his own life, the suicide assistant writes a report that can be reviewed by the municipal coroner. The case is then assessed by the regional euthanasia approval commission, which has already been instituted to oversee the application of the current Dutch euthanasia law.
IMO this reads as a rational, well-thought scenario which slots in with already existing legislation on euthanasia, and overall improves the final right of a human being: to die with dignity.
Whether this initiative will grow legs of course remains to be seen. Reading across the webpage I can almost sense the hackles rise of Christian-orientated politicians – of whom we’ve still a few too many in our present government. That aside, one wonders if the initiative will gain enough traction in the first place. Death is all too often a triviality not to worry about too much compared to the exciting vagaries of every day.