Thursday 18 April 2024

Not Compassionate Or Dignified, But Evil

Kevin Yuill writes:

Jolanda Fun is scheduled to die next week on her 34th birthday. As such, she has been able to prepare the funeral invites in advance. ‘Born from love, let go in love’, reads the card. ‘After a hard-fought life, she chose the peace she so longed for.’

Fun, who lives in North Brabant in the Netherlands, explained why she wants to die in an interview with The Sunday Times last week. Though she is physically healthy, she feels constantly ‘sad, down, gloomy’. At age 22, she was diagnosed with a litany of mental-health problems and has since run the gamut of therapies. Consequently, she has never been able to hold down a job. When a counsellor told her two years ago that she could be euthanised, she decided this was the only option left for her. ‘I want to step out of life’, she explains.

Fun has no doubt had a difficult life. She suffers from an eating disorder, recurrent depression, autism and mild learning difficulties. But to suggest suicide as a cure to these problems is as good as giving up on her.

Shockingly, Fun’s case is not all that unique in the Netherlands. Earlier this month, it was reported that another young, physically healthy Dutch woman is seeking euthanasia on mental-health grounds. The 28-year-old Zoraya ter Beek is scheduled to die in May on account of her depression and autism.

Most cases of assisted suicide or euthanasia (ASE) in the Netherlands – the first country to legalise the practice in 2002 – involve people with terminal illnesses. But ASE for psychiatric reasons is on the rise. In 2010, only two people sought euthanasia on the grounds of mental health. That increased to 68 in 2019 and to 138 last year.

Psychiatric euthanasia remains divisive in the Netherlands. Many Dutch people who were initially in favour of ASE are reconsidering their positions because of it. Boudewijn Chabot is one such critic, a psychiatrist who actually received a suspended sentence for carrying out the first reported case of euthanasia for psychiatric reasons in the 1990s. Now Chabot worries that the legalisation of ASE has gone too far. ‘I am not against euthanasia in psychiatry or severe dementia’, he writes. ‘[But] I am extremely concerned that doctors are trying to solve social misery due to lack of treatment and care, by opening the gate to the end.’

There is no doubt that the Netherlands’ laws on euthanasia have harmed the most vulnerable. In 2023, a study found 39 cases of ASE in the Netherlands involved people with either learning disabilities or autism, or both. Of these, nearly half were under 50. Although many of these patients also suffered from physical comorbidities that led to them seeking out ASE, 21 per cent of them did so primarily for psychiatric reasons. They cited characteristics associated with their conditions, such as anxiety, loneliness, difficulty in making friends and connections, and not feeling they had a place in society.

A growing number of people with dementia are also seeking euthanasia in the Netherlands. In fact, 42 per cent of Dutch GPs reported requests for euthanasia from people with dementia. Of those, patients cited feeling like an emotional burden as the most frequent reason. Disturbingly, just under 43 per cent of these patients said they felt pressured by relatives.

Countries around the world that are considering legalising ASE must reckon with such cases. Indeed, it seems like this grim reality may already be shifting public opinion. In Scotland, where the government is currently considering a bill to allow assisted suicide, support for legalisation has consistently dropped since 2019. Perhaps this has something to do with the neverending stream of horrific stories emerging from countries where ASE is legal. In Canada, people seek out euthanasia to solve poverty, homelessness and lack of medical care. In the Netherlands, therapists seem to have given up on treating the mentally unwell, recommending euthanasia instead.

The brutality of encouraging those like Jolanda Fun to die destroys the argument that ASE is about compassionately relieving end-of-life suffering. Fun herself is unsure whether or not things could have been different for her, had she received the right treatment. ‘They say you are born like this’, she says, ‘but I really think the services should have listened a bit better’.

This is where treating death as a form of medicine has led to. Medical professionals should be telling suicidal people that life can get better, not encouraging them to give up. Allowing euthanasia on psychiatric grounds tells those suffering with a mental illness that their lives are not worth living. This is not compassionate or dignified. It is evil.


  1. Replies
    1. It is an awful thing to say, but these international experiences might spare us the same thing here.