Opinion: Euthanasia – the next level

POSTED: 02/6/12 2:41 PM

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands and the practice is set to become legal on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba as well. But what if you want to end your life and you’re getting nowhere with your doctors? A Dutch documentary-producer found that it is relatively easy for people with a death wish to get around unwilling healthcare professionals.

Gerald van Bronkhorst shows in his documentary Compassion how a Dutch euthanasia association advises its members to go to Belgium and to lie through their teeth to make pharmacies hand over medicine that they can later use to end their life.

In the documentary Pieter Jiskoot, a 90-year-old who wants to stop living by the end of this year, visits several Belgian pharmacies to collect hydroxychloroquine, a medicine against malaria. As in the Netherlands, the pharmacies are only allowed to sell this product to people with a prescription.

But Jiskoot does not have prescription. He tells the Belgian pharmacists that he is traveling from his native Friesland and that he has forgotten his medication. In Antwerp, four out of five pharmacists hand over the medicine without the required prescription. Some of them even gave Jiskoot large quantities.

And why? This is because hydroxychloroquine is also used against rheumatism. Jiskoot collects enough of the stuff to put his private euthanasia-plan in motion. He tells the documentary-maker that he wants to be gone by the end of this year, even though he is currently healthy. But he considers his life completed, after his wife and his daughter have passed away, and he has lost contact with his only son.

“I want to save myself the suffering. Should I spend my last years in bed or in a wheel chair? The idea offends me,” Jiskoot says

The story takes euthanasia to the next level. Currently Dutch legislation allows it only in cases where somebody suffers intolerably without any perspective for a cure. The decision to allow euthanasia has to be supported by a doctor, with a second opinion of another doctor.

Justice Minister Duncan has hinted last year that he supports legalizing euthanasia.

In the Netherlands there has been much discussion about the Drion-pill – a simple one-stop solution for those who wish to end their lives.

The question is of course why there is so much opposition against this practice. The current legislation is embedded in sufficient guarantees that it cannot be used to pop off rich parents or other family-members at a moment’s notice.

But people like Pieter Jiskoot are still on their own; if you’re healthy and you still want to die in a decent manner the euthanasia-legislation offers no solution. No doctor in his right mind will cooperate. That inspired Jiskoot to do what he did and in the end, nobody will stop him.

If the Belgian authorities find a way to prevent the sale of this particular medicine without a prescription, there remain still plenty of alternatives available. The medicine is freely available in countries like Egypt and Turkey.

The Jiskoot-documentary makes clear that there is a new reality authorities will have to deal with one way or the other. It may, in fact, bring the introduction of the Drion-pill one step closer. For clarity’s sake: Drion’s pill does not exist. It is a theoretical concept introduced in 1991 by Huib Drion, a former judge on the Supreme Court, who thought that people over the age of 75 should be free to choose when they want to end their life. Drion proposes actually two pills; the first one would not be lethal, and the second one would have to be taken a couple of days later to complete the process. Drion came up with his so-called two-stage concept to protect people against impulsive and irreversible decisions.

Drion did not live to see his idea become a reality. He was 74 when he launched the idea, and passed away thirteen years later, in 2004.

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