‘Completed life’

completed-lifeHow sad it is that the Netherlands, a country which heroically resisted the Nazi euthanasia program, is now saddled with a government so steeped in the culture of death that it plans to extend legalized assisted suicide to any healthy elderly person who has voluntarily resolved that he or she has simply had a “completed life” (voltooid leven) and wants to die.

For Albert Heringa, a Dutch intellectual and longstanding member of the Netherlands Voluntary Euthanasia Society (NVVE), this shocking degradation of human life represents a personal triumph. In 2010, he took part in a ghoulish television documentary that depicted his 99-year-old stepmother committing suicide by downing a lethal dose of pills which Heringa, with her consent, had prepared and mixed with a bowl of yogurt and a final drink.

Following a lengthy investigation, the Dutch justice ministry decided in 2013 to charge Heringa under provisions of the Dutch criminal code and Termination of Life and Assisted Suicide Act, which provide that anyone other than a physician who assists in a suicide is guilty of a criminal offence punishable by up to three years imprisonment. At trial, Heringa claimed a defence of necessity on the ground that his stepmother’s family physician had refused to help her to commit suicide because she was not suffering intolerably from a medical illness and, therefore, did not legally qualify for medical assistance in dying. Heringa also told the court that he did not then even attempt to obtain a second medical opinion, because he believed that it was unlikely that any other local physician would have been willing to assist in the suicide of his stepmother, given the “christian character” of the region.

Heringa further testified that he had discovered that his stepmother was hoarding pills for a suicide attempt on her own, which he thought would probably fail and leave her even worse off. Consequently, instead of safeguarding her life, he felt morally compelled to take the law into his own hands by personally helping her to commit suicide peacefully and effectively.

On this basis, the trial court found Heringa guilty as charged. But the court imposed no penalty, because it deemed that he had been well motivated in facilitating the suicide of his stepmother, and had already suffered enough from the stress of a prolonged criminal investigation.

Still, Heringa was not satisfied. He appealed the guilty verdict, and won. On May 13, 2015, the appeals court unanimously held that “under the very special circumstances of this case, a defence of necessity is justified.”

Subsequently, Dutch Health Minister Edith Schippers and Justice Minister Ard van der Steur, both members of the Dutch libertarian party (VVD), appointed seven eminent Dutch academics to an Advisory Committee On Completed Life with a mandate to consider the need for extending medical assistance in dying to healthy people who are tired of life. In a report last February, the Committee unanimously concluded that any such extension to the law on euthanasia is  “unnecessary and inadvisable.”

That seemed to settle the matter, except that in an appalling turnaround on October 12, Schippers and Van der Steur announced in a joint letter to Parliament that, notwithstanding the advice of their own Committee on Completed Life, the cabinet has decided to introduce a bill to make medical assistance in suicide available to any elderly person who is enduring “intolerable and hopeless suffering without any medical foundation.”

In defence of this decision, Schippers and Van der Steur cited the principle concocted by the European Court of Human Rights in a 2011 judgment: “Everyone has a right to decide the manner and timing of his or her death.” As for why the proposed government bill does not, therefore, extend medical assistance in dying to all healthy persons, regardless of age, Schippers and Van der Steur could do no better than allege: “It is obvious that the new system should be restricted to people who have reached a certain age, because the growing desire for a self-chosen ending of life [a Dutch euphemism for suicide] is coming mainly from elderly people.”

If this bill is passed, it is a sure bet that Dutch judicial activists will not take long to repudiate such a flimsy excuse for age discrimination, by making medical assistance in suicide available to all healthy persons, young and old.

Pity the Dutch. And pity ourselves: Having legalized both abortion and euthanasia, Canada is also plunging ever farther down this same, ineluctably slippery slope into the deep darkness of the culture of death. And there can be no turning back until most Canadians finally come once again to acknowledge the universal and timeless truth: That the life of every human being is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death.

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