In the Netherlands, Doctors Care How You Live, and Die

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On Friday the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article on euthanasia in the Netherlands by Dutch MP, Kees van der Staaij. Headline: ‘In the Netherlands, the Doctor Will Kill You Now’. It sparked quite the outrage in the Netherlands, mainly because of its’ bullshit headline and rhetoric.

Doctors don’t kill their patients, they assist them with ending their lives. The difference between the two might not be clear to the dense, but is of great importance. If doctors would kill their patients, they would be punishable by law. By framing euthanasia as ‘killing’, conservatives have long tried to block legislation, unsuccessfully. They fought the battle and lost. Now that the kill-frame has proven a failure, they’re going with something new, trying to turn back the hands of time by using fake news. Or as I like to say: constructed lies.

In his article Van der Staaij sets up this image of a – not-plausible - dystopian society in which ‘healthy people who consider their lives ‘full’ may soon be eligible for assisted suicide’. It’s poppycock. A constructed lie. Van der Staaij seems to have had this prophetic vision of the near future in which doctors go the mall and hand out free killing pills to anyone remotely interested and their mother. Well, it’s not happening. Not today, not tomorrow, not even in Amsterdam. What is happening is that legislation is being prepared to open up the possibility of euthanasia for elderly who are not terminally ill, but do consider their lives fulfilled. It’s a nuance that is easily overlooked, especially when it’s left unappointed in say, an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal.

Each and every time I walk through the nursing home where my husbands grandmother lives – bless her heart, she’s 93 years old – I brace myself for the future and pray I won’t live to see that day. Though the caretakers do an outstanding job, the thought of shuffling up and down a hall, muscles stiff and sore - some of them quite literally waiting for death - makes me cringe. That being said, Hollands oldest citizen became 112 years old last week. Her name is Geertje Kuijntjes. She’s known to be an outgoing and modern woman, who up til the age of 100 even took solo trips to foreign countries. Needless to say: life is different for everyone, let’s keep all options open.

‘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?’ Van der Staaij asks, hinting the answer to the question is a simple ‘yes’, while simultaneously condemning that answer. Van der Staaij viciously frames his silent ‘yes’ as society pressuring elderly into death, claiming that “more than 60% of geriatric-care specialists already say they have felt pressure from patients’ family members to euthanize elderly relatives”. Again, a constructed lie. In a study among 500 specialist, 60% say they have felt pressure from family members and patients. Did he just accidentally forget to mention the ‘patients’? I think not.

Though I would have loved an affirmative answer to his question – again, I like for everyone to have options and a choice - I strongly believe the answer is actually no. In the eyes of the world Dutch society may seem progressive at heart, but in real life – i.e. in political choices – we have proven differently. During the last parliamentary elections right winged parties – including (conservative) Christian parties, won. Though up until now no cabinet has been formed, expectations are both CDA and ChristenUnie – two euthanasia-opposed Christian parties, will be in government. As long as religion-based political parties govern this country, Van der Staaij has absolutely nothing to worry about. ­And that’s a shame.

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