Chris Rutenfrans: “They Often Arrive Here Waving Their Euthanasia Declaration” (transl. editorial Volkskrant)

[Note: Translation of an op-ed published in the Dutch Newspaper De Volkskrant of 17 February 2016. “Ze komen vaak wapperend met hun euthanasieverklaring binnen”] Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 12.58.32 PM.png

It’s Euthanasia week. Monday, February 15 NTR broadcasted a documentary “End of Life Clinic” which caused a huge uproar in the (social) media.

Chris Rutenfrans, opinion editor of the Volkskrant. February 17, 2016.

Her doctor refused euthanasia because he never heard from her that she wanted euthanasia or wanted to die.

It is highly questionable whether Marcel Ouddeken and Hans Kema have done a favour to the support for euthanasia with their documentary “End of Life Clinic.” The broadcast by the NTR Monday has evoked so much horror that it could very well be a turning point in the euthanasia debate. Former journalist Wouke van Scherrenburg posted on Twitter: “I’ve dreamed about that woman in the chair and it was a gruesome dream.”

The viewer sees three cases of termination of life by a doctor at the End of Life Clinic, an institution that handles death requests of those whose requests are refused by their family physician (GP). The euthanasia of Hannie Goudriaan touched a particularly sensitive nerve, as is apparent from the responses. Hannie Goudriaan suffers from semantic dementia, a form of dementia that primarily affects the speech center in the brain. Her ability to verbally express herself is limited, and is in the documentary largely restricted to the expression “huppakee, weg!” [hoppity gone]

Her life is terminated on the basis of an advance directive from 2010. It is very obvious that she doesn’t know anything anymore about this. Her family physician has refused euthanasia because he has never heard from her that she wants euthanasia or that she wants to die. He says that he has not been sufficiently supported by the SCEN-physician [note translator: SCEN is the official Dutch Support and Consultation Service for Euthanasia] and the neurologist he consulted. But the doctor of the End of Life Clinic maintains that in the seven conversations he has had with her, she has made it clear to him that with respect to her wish to die by euthanasia, she “knows what she wants.”

Hannie receives, seated in a chair, a lethal dose of medication. Her death takes place in front of the camera. Hans Beerekamp writes in the NRC Handelsblad on Tuesday: “The images of how she receives a lethal injection seated in her armchair at home will be shown around for years to come, at home and abroad. In the Netherlands, the formula ‘Huppakee. Weg” [hoppity gone] now counts as a valid expression when establishing consent, and for determining the presence of unbearable and hopeless suffering.”

This is clearly not an emergency situation of hopelessness. The weekend before her death, you see Hannie Goudriaan enjoying a day at Thialf [note translator: a skating ring] in Heerenveen. You also see how she skillfully drives her car while her husband, who insists on the termination of her life, sits next to her passively, as he has done for 35 years.


Rob Bruntink, a palliative care expert, writes on his blog Bureau MORBidee: “Never before have I seen a euthanasia that looked like an execution. A slaughter. But the husband found it beautiful. And the doctor found it worthy, “because she didn’t snore in the process.”

Bruntink says he can imagine that this documentary can represent a turning point in the thinking about euthanasia in the Netherlands. “Many people call this outright murder. I got a message from my mother with the question ‘was this real or was it fake?’ That is, I think, illustrative of the astonishment this broadcast evoked across the country. ”

Bruntink himself avoids the use of the term “murder”, “because it keeps the discussion away from what it should really be about: do we as a society really want to go in this direction?”

He believes that the supply of euthanasia creates the demand and that it makes other options superfluous. He is convinced that palliative care, where pain management and relief of suffering are central, is less well developed in the Netherlands because of the option of euthanasia.

His work in hospices, specialized in terminal care, have taught Bruntink that people have difficulty judging what they can handle in the future. “At the hospice, they often arrive waving their euthanasia requests, but only one in a hundred will also receive euthanasia. The others find again and again that life is still quite bearable. You could say that euthanasia prevents that people continue to mature.”

Euthanasia prevents that people continue to mature

Bruntink finds the report of the Advisory Committee Completed Life chaired by Paul Schnabel encouraging: “It says that we should worry about each other and increase investment in health care for the elderly, especially for people with dementia and chronic psychiatric patients.”

Chris Rutenfrans is opinion editor of the newspaper.

[Translated by me (TL) with google translation for a rough basis to save time, then correction and improvement of the text]


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