The Monday evening NTR broadcast of the documentary about the End of Life Clinic shows, according to Victor Lamme, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, that the Dutch euthanasia practice is on a slippery slope.
Victor Lamme is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the author of, among other things, “De Vrije Wil Bestaat Niet”
[translation TL: click here for the original version]
February 16, 2016
In a documentary broadcast Monday by NTR, the End of Life Clinic very proudly presented three cases of euthanasia. Excerpts of this documentary had been shown earlier in the programme The World Keeps Turning, where the clinic’s work was highly praised; how ‘beautiful’ it all was. ‘Horrible’ seems to me the more appropriate term.
The euthanasia doctor found in her pronunciation of the word ‘huppakee’ sufficient evidence for a clearly present desire to die
It has become very clear now that the Dutch euthanasia practice has landed on a slippery slope and is now used to solve very different problems than unbearable suffering. A most obvious case in point was that of Hannie Goudriaan, a woman with semantic dementia. This woman had written a will in 2010, in which she had declared that she no longer wanted to live if as a result of her dementia she would no longer know who she was and would be housebound. The End of Life Clinic decided that this point had been reached. They got strong support from the husband, who spoke for her.
Anyone who has seen the documentary could feel the pressure Hannie was under to stick to her once completed advance directive. She was able to drive, visit a skating competition, and have a drink in a pub. But her husband had no intention to visit her if she would end up in a home, and the euthanasia doctor found in the pronunciation of the word ‘huppakee’ sufficient evidence for a clear and present desire to die.
The disappearing desire to die
Should we keep people with dementia to their previously completed Living Will? Many people resent the prospect of dementia. It is therefore increasingly common to prepare an advance directive like Hannie did. What is thereby forgotten is that once that time has come, this desire to die most often disappears, and demented elderly are often far from unhappy.
A comparable situation – and easier to investigate – is that of patients with locked-in syndrome, a brain injury that causes total paralysis and whereby people can only blink their eyes. Nearly every normal person says that if he would ever end up in this situation, he would like to put an end to his life. It appears, however, that these patients rate their quality of life on average with a 7, similar to the score given by the average student. People simply adapt very quickly to a new situation, how miserable that situation may be.
In addition: dementia changes the brain. He or she thus becomes literally a different person; with other norms, feelings, and desires. He is then simply no longer the person who signed at one point in the past the advance directive. To hold demented people to their living will is as weird as saying to an 18-year old that he must become a fireman, simply because he said that once when he was eight years old. People change, and nowhere faster than in the context of dementia.
Finally, it is highly questionable how ‘free’ people are when they complete such an advance directive. The pressure on the elderly is continuously increasing. They are being told that health care costs are being wasted in the last years of life, and that they wouldn’t want to be a burden on their children. And that it is really so very ‘beautiful’ to take matters into your own hands.
The elderly are being told how ‘beautiful’ it is to take matters into one’s own hands
That kind of social pressure can become very forceful, consciously or unconsciously; and there is ample scientific evidence for that. Do not underestimate at all the power of the “euthanasia marketing” of recent years, with associations like “Uit Vrije Will”, which do not shy away from using marketing ploys such as the use of celebrity endorsement, proudly displaying Dutch celebs like Hedy d’Ancona, Mies Bouwman, Frits Bolkestein and Dick Swaab on their websites. That way it becomes more or less the norm to end your life when it becomes somewhat less appealing.
What problem is euthanasia really supposed to solve? Elderly take up time, and demand money and effort, which modern society doesn’t want to muster. In the same NTR broadcast we see the centenarian Ans, who fully enjoys a day at sea. Her suffering mostly consist of the fact that no one takes her there anymore. Except on that last day.
It all comes eerily close to the famous scene from the science fiction film Soylent Green, where elderly people are encouraged to commit euthanasia after seeing a movie about how beautiful life on earth once was, a long time ago.
When Hannie gets the lethal injection she says ‘it is horrible’. It is the first time she says something else than “huppakee.” Her last words touch the essence.
Victor Lamme is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the author of, among other things “De Vrije Wil Bestaat Niet”.
[I translated this op-ed using google translate as a rough basis to save time, then corrected and improved the translation based on the original Dutch version]