Paying the Piper

Photo Jill Kandel

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On April 1, 2002—April Fool’s Day—the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia. Euthanasia: the termination of a terminally sick individual’s life, for reasons of mercy, an answer to suffering. The Dutch law stated that patients must be adults, must have made a voluntary request and must be facing unbearable suffering with no reasonable alternative. There were 1,815 reported deaths by euthanasia the following year.

At first, unbearable suffering was the only acceptable reason to allow euthanasia, but definitions changed as the Royal Dutch Medical Association’s guidelines for interpreting the 2002 Euthanasia Act became the protocol to follow. The definition of “unbearable suffering” came to include “unbearable suffering of either a physical or mental nature.” Then “mental and psychosocial ailments” such as “loss of function, loneliness and loss of autonomy.” More recently, the guidelines have allowed doctors to connect a patient’s lack of “social skills, financial resources and a social network” to “unbearable and lasting suffering,” opening up the possibility of legally assisted death based on “psychosocial” factors alone.

I never dreamed that these laws would affect my life, and I am a pretty good dreamer. Maybe I should have seen it coming.

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