Netherlands: official report against extending euthanasia

In The Netherlands, a report studying individuals who « are tired of living » has just been submitted to the government, concluding that euthanasia should not be extended to this type of situation.

The debate in The Netherlands is currently focused of cases of individuals who are “tired of living” and on the possibility to accord their request to put an end to their life, and to provide the means. The terms « voltooid leven » (life has ended) or « Klaar met leven » (finished with life), are the new key words used to expand the law on euthanasia whose ultimate objective is to make a pill available in an anonymous manner to whoever wishes to put an end to his life.

The doctors have presently allowed euthanasia to be practiced in cases which fulfill the 2002 law criteria on euthanasia. In July 2014, the Health and Justice Ministers set up “a commission of wise counselors” directed by Dr. Paul Schnabel, to study public issues and legal possibilities to enlarge this practice by relinquishing to the requests of individuals who consider their lives to be finished and who want to die.

In its report, this commission judged that the term « life has ended” is a very personal conclusion from individuals who consider that their life no longer has perspectives and who have developed a constant desire to die. Numerous factors can lead to this situation: corporal, psychic, cognitive, psycho-social, and existential.

Therefore, different cases can be described:

  1. those who fit the current law with intolerable suffering due to an essentially underlying medical condition;
  2. those on the borderlines where it is less clear whether the suffering has an essentially medical origin;
  3. those where there is no medical cause;
  4. those without suffering.

The report studies each of these situations. It seems that the number of individuals who esteem that their “life is finished” is rather feeble. This is even truer for cases with a medical origin.

This report also reveals that the viewpoint of legitimacy for assisted suicide for cases of “life being finished” depends on the autonomy approach: either individualist or relational. From the government and society’s point of view, it’s important to weigh the consequences for society if the law is potentially expanded.

This report underlines numerous possibilities to avoid having the impression that “life is finished”: preparation for accepting old-age, assistance for the elderly, improving their autonomy, fighting against loneliness, answering to spiritual needs, careful to give a sense to their existence, reevaluation of life’s value at an advanced age, etc.

The commission considers this to be a question of life and death, and that it is not reasonable to extend the current guidelines. Nevertheless, the fact that such a debate could be held demonstrates the serious consequences for the mentality on euthanasia.