Jan Cate is healthy but lonely
In the 19th Century a statue of Tanonius Marcellinus, consul of Campania (now the region around Naples) was unearthed in the town of Benevento. It bore a remarkable inscription, one which must be unique in the history of Western Civilization. It described him as a “most worthy patron, on account of the good deeds which rescued the population from endless boredom”.
Boredom — taedium in Latin — will soon be a reason to be euthanised in the Netherlands. Of course it won’t be a spur of the moment decision. There will be a bit of boring paperwork to fill out first and some boring interviews to be endured, but in the end you will get your needle.
The Dutch government is planning to create a new end-of-life law for elderly people who are tired of living. Health Minister Edith Schippers told Parliament that a new kind of assisted suicide is needed for people who are not terminally ill or suffering, but who want to die (link to letter to Parliament, in Dutch).
She said that the proposed law would come into effect next year. It would cater for “older people who do not have the possibility to continue life in a meaningful way, who are struggling with the loss of independence and reduced mobility, and who have a sense of loneliness, partly because of the loss of loved ones, and who are burdened by general fatigue, deterioration and loss of personal dignity.” They are, in other words, terminally bored.
The guiding principle of the legislation will be autonomy. “Autonomy threatens to be an empty concept if an individual with a ‘completed life’ cannot end his life without help and if at the same time others cannot help him,” says the letter. “Respecting the autonomy of people means creating conditions that enable people to shape their own life, including one’s own death.”
The process will be thoroughly documented and carefully organized, Ms Schippers told a TV program. “It should not involve lonely or depressed people. Not for people with problems you can solve in a different way.” She said that life must be protected, but some people wake up every morning disappointed that they did not die in their sleep.
The government’s decision ignores an independent committee of experts who said earlier this year that a “completed life” should not make people eligible for euthanasia (link here in Dutch). The committee, headed by a well-known sociologist, Paul Schnabel, was established after a man who had helped his 99-year-old mother to die because she thought that her life was at an end was acquitted of murder.
New legislation will break new ground for end-of-life laws. Technically it will not be “euthanasia”, for this term has a very specific meaning in the Dutch penal code. Because the person will not be terminally ill, as the euthanasia law requires, a whole new set of regulations must be established. This will no doubt create problems for the statisticians, as the new deaths will not be described as “euthanasia”. Between reported euthanasia, unreported euthanasia, terminal sedation and this new type of death, it will become very difficult to track the number of people who are killed by their doctors in the Netherlands.
A new set of checks and balances will be created to ensure that all deaths will be voluntary. Specially trained death advisors will ensure that there is no medical solution to the patient’s existential issues.
The Dutch right-to-die association, the NVVE, is delighted with the government’s intentions. It immediately launched a website with profiles of six people who feel that their lives are “complete” and who would take advantage of this new form of euthanasia if becomes available. They are an interesting mix – four men and two women. All of them are in their 70s, 80s or 90s; none of them are migrants; none of them are religious; all of them are comfortable financially; all of them are lonely. They may keep busy and fit, but life has no meaning and they fear becoming dependent or demented. Here is what 78-year-old Jan Cate has to say:
“ … my life is complete. I’m at a tipping point. I’m not really happy. Loneliness plays a major role. I have lost the ability to talk to people. Grandchildren have their own lives. I see them less and my children are too busy.”
The move was strongly criticised by Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacob. “In the course of my work, I have seen not one, not two, but many elderly people who genuinely wished to die following the death of their spouses but then, within several years, were able to enjoy life for many years longer,” said Jacobs, who is the chairman of the ethics committee of Amsterdam’s Sinai Center, Europe’s only Jewish psychiatric hospital.
The website Katholiek Gezin accused the government trying to benefit financially from the despair of the elderly: “After many years in which the health system endured cutbacks that generated increasingly tragic situations of lacking assistance for our elderly, the Cabinet now comes up with a solution: Professional assistance to suicide for people who have ‘completed their lives.’”
The legislation has the support of a majority in the current Parliament, but elections next year could change that, so Euthanasia 2.0 is not set in stone. Some parties are firmly opposed to the idea. “The myth is that it is purely individual choice, while it always also affects family, the community, health care providers and ultimately society,” Gert-Jan Segers, the leader of a Christian parliamentary party, told De Volkskrant newspaper.
It’s hard to understand why Dutch politicians are so proud of “completed life” euthanasia. The worthy consul Tanonius Marcellinus was memorialized for rescuing his people from boredom with good deeds, not with lethal injections. Isn’t that the proper role of governments: to foster a society in which people feel glad to be alive?
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.