Euthanasia. Assisted dying. Whatever you wish to call it, the end result is the same. End of life.
The loss of a loved one is quite possibly the worst feeling in the world, there is no other feeling like it, it is an instantly sickening numb feeling like you’re seeing the world as a slow motion movie – well that’s my experience of it. The world stops for you but carries on for everyone else. It’s a lonely feeling one which you cannot fully explain or understand without experiencing it. I have seen the debilitation of diseases such as Cancer and Dementia. I know that instant panic when you hear the words but what I don’t know is how it feels to lose a loved one at their own hand, when it has been their own decision.
A Dutch documentary aired back in February showed the story of a 68 year old woman with semantic dementia being euthanised. You can watch the full documentary here.
Suicide vs. Euthanasia (death without the paperwork?)
Euthanasia isn’t suicide even though the end result is the same. It isn’t a decision one makes when depressed or in trouble, it isn’t one to take lightly. Don’t get me wrong I do think suicide of a healthy individual is a selfish act and in a perfect world it would be nice to think that everybody has at least one person to turn in dark moments but the only certainty in life is death and to control that yourself is a very big decision to make. It’s quite sad but brave, we don’t know what is ‘on the other side’ or if in fact there is anything other than the here and now (which I think is the more likely explanation). I love life. I love living life and that’s why I think it is a huge decision to choose to end it.
When illness or sickness takes hold the rules change
Euthanasia is basically making the same decision but at the hands of a doctor – not wanting to be too crude about it. The definition is typically meant for the killing of a person for their own good (or another good) as is typically used to end their suffering. Laws to protect doctors from prosecution were passed in the Netherlands in June 1994 meaning that euthanasia would remain a crime but the doctor would not be prosecuted. In 2002 the Netherlands finally legalised Euthanasia. Now this doesn’t mean anyone can go around ending people’s life no questions asked, I recommend reading the myths of Euthanasia for the full facts. In the Netherlands there is a formal end of life process. Assisted suicide is only legal if the criteria laid down in the Dutch Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act are fully observed. The act is then carried out by a doctor or by the individual themselves depending on the severity of the situation the individual is in. It is suggested that one in 33 opt for Euthanasia in the Netherlands, a number which is expected to rise in the coming years.
In the UK until to the Suicide Act of 1961 it was a criminal act to take your own life. I don’t see how they would ever enforce a punshiment for suicide! It is however illegal for an individual to “aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another“. Anyone found guilty of this could receive up to 14 years imprisonment but currently no UK doctor has ever been convicted. According to the Dutch Penal Code, euthanasia is a crime but is not classed as murder. Anyone who takes another’s life at his explicit and earnest request will be punished by imprisonment up to 12 years. For cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands and the law I definitely recommend reading this journal.
Recently, the House of Commons in the UK debated the possibility of new rules similar to the arrangements in the Netherlands. This would make it easier for those in the position to make the decision themselves. The Bill didn’t make it past the second reading and sparked a country wide review of opinions and views. It encouraged debate and raised many questions. There were many reasons why the Bill never made it and it is because there were too many unanswered questions that squashed any idea of reform.
The Dutch law allows euthanasia to take place if the person requesting it does not suffer from physical problems constituting unbearable and hopeless suffering. The Dutch law is a bit backwards in this way – only when in a situation of ‘unbearable and hopeless suffering’ would you ever consider assisted dying so you can’t make and wouldn’t really need to make that decision without the contributing factor of illness or hopelessness.
Right-to-die organisations across the Netherlands have made new calls more recently for a “last will pill” making assisted dying easier and more accessible specifically to those turned down by doctors but is that really what we need in this world?
The problem here, for me, is that I’ve never been in this position. I don’t know how it feels to be anything other than who I am now, and I think that here lies the problem in the people making these decisions. Like anything you’re only an expert in your personal experiences. You can’t make a truly informed decision if you haven’t felt it. I’ve never been in control of somebody’s life and death like that and if my loved one was asking me to help them leave my life I don’t know how comfortable I would be administering that final dose.
Some comments on the stories about this consist of yet again more questions than answers; is the ‘right to a civilised death is a great thing’?
Is agreeing with this policy a ‘crime against humanity’? Why is euthanizing a sick animal the right thing to do yet frowned upon with it’s a relative? Can this situation be compared to that of religious questioning? How would God view helping someone to die in a dignified and controlled way? Who is there to monitor the system and make sure they feel no pain? Nobody has ever died and come back to tell us what the drugs feel like? Is ending lives the answer to controlling the world’s population? Why should money and research go in to funding end of life medications and not lifesaving treatments or cures? Why should you have to ask permission to die? We are automatous individuals who don’t belong to anyone so if we make a decision thats that surely?!
What do you think? Is the Netherlands a better place for such liberal laws on euthanasia or is the start of something more sinister? Where does an ‘end of life pill’ leave us?