On euthanasia

The much debated matter of euthanasia basically comes down to the question of self-determination. And I value self-determination very very high. I consider it a basic human right, paramount to almost everything I can imagine. I also think that every human being has the right to decide whether or not to die. It’s the ultimate form of self-determination.

Now if a person wishes to die, there are two scenarios: the person involved ends his life himself, or he/she needs assistance. A lot of people who wish to die are ill or old and need assistance. Now this is tricky, because somebody else gets involved. And that means that the person who wants to die is dependent on whether the other person involved is prepared to help. And the other way around: the other person involved should not be able to end a person’s life against his/her wish.

And that’s where the moral question becomes a legal one. As you may know, my country, The Netherlands was the first country in the world to regulate euthanasia and still has one of the most advanced legislations concerning euthanasia (also called physician assisted suicide). In short: in The Netherlands, euthanasia is legal if somebody is in a state of “endless and unbearable suffering” and if a certain protocol is followed (including second opinion).

But there are still complications: there is a lot of misunderstanding and different jurisprudence on euthanasia in case of dementia (you have decide before you cannot think clear anymore, but when you are still clear you don’t qualify for euthanasia…). And there is debate on the role of family (for instance a person of which the doctor says is suffering and will not recover is kept alive because the family is religious…). And sometimes doctors don’t want to cooperate because of their personal ethical convictions or because of a difference of opinion about the state of the patient.

In my opinion the ideal way would be to have a legit and reliable remedy available for everyone who wishes to end his or her life (so they won’t have to resort to horrible means like jumping in front of trains or hanging themselves). Any person who wishes to end his/her life and is capable of doing it him/herself, would have the means to do so and would not have to rely on somebody else to assist. And in all cases in which assistence is needed, it should be provided.

I also think euthanasia or physician assisted suicide should not only be regulated by law. It should be taken out of the law and be fully legalized. Because it is a basic human right to die and if somebody needs help with that, the other person involved should not be subject to prosecution. This way the question of life and death would return being a moral one.

And evenly important: I think euthanasia or physician assisted suicide should be demedicalized. Doctors are trained to save lives, to cure people. The decision of life and death is not a medical question, it is a highly personal and an ethical one. It should be handled not by a doctor but by a dying counselor.