The current debate in The Netherlands around doctor-assisted suicide for depression sends a shiver down my spine. It’s all been triggered by a controversial new clinic, the pragmatically named Life-Ending Clinic, which is now proudly ending the lives of people with chronic depression. Clinic Director, Steven Pleiter, has said:
“We consider it self-evident that someone who is terminal can turn to euthanasia. Now we are entering a phase in which there will be more debate about about patients who are not terminally ill, among them psychiatric patients…”
A jaunty press release from the clinic stated ‘The figures over 2013 show a strong growth of euthanasia in these groups’ (referring to those with dementia and psychiatric problems). If that kind of marketing sound-bite doesn’t raise a red flag for you, I suggest you look into your heart and see whether some small part of it hasn’t turned to stone. For when the day comes that business models and growth projections are applied to the practice of killing our fellow humans, we have truly turned out all the lights on truth and dignity.
Picture the scene: a board meeting at the Life-Ending Clinic, with share-holders seeking higher return on investment and demanding a greater recruitment drive from administrators, setting targets for increasing ‘customer buy-in’; the advertising agencies weighing in, the PR machine cranking up, twisting and distorting the minds of those whose minds are most vulnerable.
The Dutch legalised euthanasia in 2001 The law, as implemented back then, allowed doctors to end the lives of patients, but only in close consultation family physicians who had known the patient over many years. Termination of life was intended to be limited to those with ‘unbearable and hopeless suffering’ who were in full command of their mental faculties and had no hope of relief.
Compare this model to one highly publicised case last year in which the Life-Ending Clinic terminated the life of a 63 year-old man described as having severe psychiatric problems. The customer in question, after an active career in government, could not face the prospect of his up-coming retirement. Gerty Casteelen, the clinic’s psychiatrist, told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad that the man:
“…managed to convince me that it was impossible for him to go on. He was all alone in the world. He’d never had a partner. He did have a family but was not in touch with them. It was almost like he’d never developed as a person. He felt like he didn’t have the right to live. His self-hatred was all consuming.”
Hey Gerty, well that sounds like a good reason to bump him off then, doesn’t it? Maybe your October quota was a little shy of where it needed to be and, well, it must be awful to be in such a terrible position in life, mustn’t it? This sounds conspicuously like a man who needed help dealing with some very painful realities and feelings, but not a man who needed to be enabled to die.
We were warned, weren’t we, that legalising euthanasia was the thin end of the wedge. And with moves afoot to allow the depressed to choose to die, it would appear that we that we are now boldly scaling that wedge, with barely a ‘by your leave’. Anyone who knows anything about depression knows that it is often a wake-up call for a need to change, a precursor, when handled effectively, to a richer and more profound experience of life. Not only that, but those who have been depressed are graced with an empathy, an ability to help others which is a benefit and a gift.
It would appear that the Culture of Death is playing some serious trump cards. But the game isn’t over yet.
Written by Jacqui Hogan