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Euthanasia is a controversial subject — so much so that it's easy to forget that real people are at the center of it. Here, we share the stories of two women who requested assisted suicide in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal.

My home country, Holland, is famous for its tulips, clogs, windmills and cheese. Those are not the reasons this tiny patch of land appears in the news so often, though — that has more to do with its controversial stance on issues like decriminalized marijuana, homebirth, legal sex work, and... euthanasia.

Currently legalized in three European Union countries — Belgium and Luxemburg as well as the Netherlands — assisted suicide is something many people are quick to condemn. My own feelings are a little mixed too, if I have to be honest. Indeed, ending life by appointment comes with a goosebump-inducing factor. At first sight, it may appear to be an invasion on the sacredness of human life. Assisted suicide is so much more than a political issue, however. It is about the dignified end of people who are losing their faculties or are in an awful lot of pain. It is about honoring the wishes of those who simply don't want to go on.

Assisted suicide is, in short, about the real lives and deaths of real people. That is what I want to share today. Over the last couple of years, my dear friend and her daughter both chose to end their suffering. These are their stories. 

Euthanasia In Holland: The Procedure

The Dutch "euthanasia law" allows physicians to assist patients end their lives, if they meet certain conditions. Euthanasia and assistance with suicide is permitted solely under the following circumstances:

  • The physician is satisfied that the patient's request to end their life was made voluntarily of their own will, and carefully considered.
  • The patient's suffering is unbearable and not improvable.
  • The physician has fully informed the patient of their situation and prognosis.
  • The physician and patient collaboratively concluded that there is no other reasonable solution. 
  • The physician has consulted at least one other, independent, physician, who has also met with the patient. This second physician has given a written report about the situation and consented to the patient's wish to end their life, in accordance with the law.
  • The physician has to offer the assistance with suicide in a careful, ethical manner. 

Euthanasia requests can be considered only if they are made by the patient themselves, not by relatives or friends. The latter can only bring the patient's "declaration of intent" to the physician's attention. It's important to understand that assisted suicide is neither a patient's right nor a physician's obligation under Dutch law. Physicians who don't feel comfortable participating in ending patients' lives do not have to do so, and can instead refer the case to another doctor.

What does this look like in practice? Over the last few years, I've encountered two cases in which people strongly preferred a dignified death over a life they thought was no longer worth living. First, I'll share what happened to my friend's daughter. Then, I'll share what happened to my friend herself. While my friend's daughter was granted her wish to end her life and ended up with a physician-assisted death, my friend's request to die was declined. Her road was longer, despite the fact that her wish to die was even stronger. 

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