By Jonathon Van Maren
As a Dutch-Canadian with a healthy amount of pride in my heritage—all four of my grandparents and my father were born in the Netherlands–it is painful to see nearly-annual news trickle out of the Old Country describing the cutting-edge killing of the emerging euthanasia regime. A week ago, a Dutch Member of Parliament again sounded the alarm in a scathing editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Kees van der Straaij is actually a member of the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP), the political wing of the Dutch Reformed Church I attend here in Canada. His warning is concise and chilling:
In 2002 the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for those suffering deadly diseases or in the last stages of life. Not long after the legislation was enacted, eligibility was expanded to include those experiencing psychological suffering or dementia. Today pressure is mounting for the Dutch government to legalize a “euthanasia pill” for those who are not ill, but simply consider their lives to be “full.”
It’s important to understand that this is the end game for suicide activists: Suicide on demand. If “the right to die” is actually a right, after all, then it cannot be denied to anyone who wants it—at least not on any rational grounds. In every jurisdiction where “assisted suicide” is legalized, suicide activists continue to push for expanded eligibility. In Canada, these activists were complaining about the number of people who could not access suicide the very same day that the euthanasia legislation passed.
Proponents of assisted suicide continue to claim that safeguards already built into Dutch law are sufficient to reduce the risk of abuse. They point out that medical professionals are required to assess whether a person’s suffering is indeed unbearable and hopeless.
The difficulty here, of course, is that the word “suffering” is subjective. Intense physical suffering is far different than the awful suffering of those with depression, for example, but both are very clearly “suffering”—and that is precisely why suicide activists insist that those with mental illness be permitted to and assisted in killing themselves.
These safeguards do exist. In practice, however, they are hard to enforce. A poignant illustration was recently aired on Dutch television. An older woman stricken with semantic dementia had lost her ability to use words to convey meaning. “Upsy-daisy, let’s go,” she said. Both her husband and her physician at the end-of-life clinic interpreted her words to mean, “I want to die.” A review committee judged her euthanasia was in accordance both with the law and her earlier written instructions, an outcome very few would have imagined possible as recently as 10 years ago.
It gets worse. In 2015, for example, 431 people were killed in the Netherlands without their explicit consent.
Such episodes have many Dutch people worried about the erosion of protections for the socially vulnerable and medically fragile. A broad and heated public debate recently flared about whether doctors may administer fatal drugs to those with severe dementia based on a previously signed “advance directive.” In several controversial cases, assisted suicide was not directly discussed with patients who were incapable of reaffirming earlier written death wishes. In one case, a doctor slipped a dementia patient a sleeping pill in some apple sauce so that he could be easily taken home and given a deadly injection.
Hundreds of Dutch physicians signed a declaration outlining their moral objection to these increasingly common practices. Nonetheless, the Dutch government stands by its claim that the law permits doctors to end such patients’ lives. Meanwhile, the Dutch Right to Die Society, a national euthanasia lobby, keeps pressing to take further steps, arguing that individuals should have the option to “step out of life.”
“Step out of life.” To highlight what they’re actually saying: Those who want to die—suicidal people, in other words—should have the right to “step off the bridge.” Or “step off the ledge.” Or “jump off the cliff.”
But is this argument really convincing? Those seeking death because their lives are “full” are often haunted by loneliness and despair. Some elderly people fear bothering their children with their social and medical needs. They don’t want to be perceived as burdensome.
Legalizing the euthanasia pill could put even more pressure on the vulnerable, disabled and elderly. More than 60% of geriatric-care specialists already say they have felt pressure from patients’ family members to euthanize elderly relatives. Will the day come when society considers it entirely normal—even “natural”—for people who grow old or become sick simply to pop the pill and disappear? If so, those who desire to continue living in spite of society’s expectations will have some serious explaining to do.
Let that number sink in for just a moment. 60% of those tasked with caring for the elderly have faced pressure from family members to kill their old relatives. Can you imagine a more compelling catalyst for suicidal feelings than being an old person who has just realized that his son or daughter, or niece or nephew wants you to hurry up and die already? That would be a whole new kind of suffering. The response to this editorial on millennial blogs like the Huffington Post has already indicated the attitude of many young people—one woman penned a rebuttal to the “fear-mongering” by describing her experience interacting with people in a nursing home, and then profanely insisting that she would want to die or be killed long before she turns into an old person like those she meets.
All of this clearly shows the slippery slope of the euthanasia path. Contrary to the emphatic advice of a special advisory committee chaired by a prominent member of a liberal-democratic party, the outgoing Dutch government wishes to expand and extend the euthanasia law to those who consider their lives to be full. The pressing question is where the slope ends and the abyss begins. Will those with intellectual disabilities or physical defects also be “empowered” to step out of life? Will those battling thoughts of suicide be encouraged to opt for a “dignified death” in place of excellent psychiatric care?
The government’s most fundamental task is to protect its citizens. The Dutch government, to its credit, often speaks out when fundamental human rights are under threat around the world. Now that the fundamental right to life is under threat in the Netherlands, it’s time for others to speak out about the Dutch culture of euthanasia.
Here in Canada, it’s important that we follow the developments in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Suicide activists here are pushing for the same thing here in this country—like their European counterparts, they believe that to die with dignity, people must die faster.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.