Shocking and disturbing news has emerged out of the Netherlands over the weekend after a 29-year-old woman with mental health problems was allowed to end her own life.
Aurelia Brouwers died last Friday afternoon as doctors administered a lethal dose of medication into her body. She claimed she was excited about leaving her “rotten life” of psychiatric disorder and emotional pain.
“Dear friends, Today, January 26, 2018 at 14:35, Aurelia, surrounded by friends, died peacefully. She’s finally free,” Aurelia’s family wrote on Facebook following her death.
“Just the way she wanted it,” parents Toon and Sjoukje, who were sitting at her bedside, told Dutch outlet RTL news. “It actually went very fast and especially very peaceful.”
“She took her drink and asked me: ‘Do you want to lie next to me?'” Sjoukje added. “Spontaneously I started to sing, a few sentences from ‘Farewell to a friend’ from Clouseau, she got a big smile on her face, as she sank further, the smile became smaller, smaller and smaller. It was really beautiful and very emotional, you saw her sink and at one point it was over.”
Aurelia suffered from borderline personality disorder from a young age and often heard voices in her head. She would experience episodes of psychosis and severe depression. After a long battle for the right to die, she was granted permission at the turn of the new year. “I think that after such a rotten life I am entitled to a dignified death – people who have a serious illness get a chance for a worthy ending, so why is it so difficult for people who are psychologically [ill]?” she said.
Around 9 percent of requests for euthanasia due to unbearable and hopeless psychological suffering are granted in The Netherlands, so it was highly unusual for Aurelia to receive the go ahead. She said she felt happy and relieved after discussing her choice to end her life last June at Levenseindekliniek, an end-of-life clinic.
“I was very nervous, but the conversation went well, I was allowed to continue in the process, and on my way back home I was hopping about Utrecht Central Station,” she said.
For her, life was an unending cycle of unbearable mental turmoil.
“Every second is torture,” she said. “I’m so trapped in my head, those demons are not going away, I’ve been so devoured by my psychiatric illnesses that I’m completely broken, and I fought against that.”
Despite their obvious grief at losing a daughter, Aurelia’s parents said they were happy that she got what she wanted. “She was completely up and really looking forward to it, the last days she was just happy because she had the certainty she was going,” the pair explained.
Aurelia kept up a blog where she updated followers on her campaign to end her own life peacefully. In a post on Jan 8, Aurelia explained how she was fighting for “openness and broader legislation that makes more people with psychiatric problems, and especially young people, have a chance of euthanasia.” This, she hopes, will mean that those suffering from mental illness do “not have to resort to suicide.”
She later said that she “said goodbye to life a long time ago,” and that “death is a liberation for me.” She also stated that she had been through several suicide attempts, but now had the opportunity to “die with dignity.”
Aurelia talked candidly about where she believed she would be going after her death. “I believe that after my death I will go to heaven,” she declared in a post on December 19.
The Netherlands has become notorious for becoming the first nation in the world to legally allow doctors to help people to die. The Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act took effect on April 1, 2002. This piece of legislation legalizes euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in very specific cases, under very specific circumstances, such as:
- the patient’s suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement
- the patient’s request for euthanasia must be voluntary and persist over time (the request cannot be granted when under the influence of others, psychological illness or drugs)
- the patient must be fully aware of his/her condition, prospects, and options
- there must be consultation with at least one other independent doctor who needs to confirm the conditions mentioned above
- the death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion by the doctor or patient, and the doctor must be present
- the patient is at least 12 years old (patients between 12 and 16 years of age require the consent of their parents)
Euthanasia now accounts for around 4.5% of deaths in The Netherlands, and requests from people who are not terminally ill are on the increase. “It looks like patients are now more willing to ask for euthanasia and physicians are more willing to grant it,” said Dr. Agnes Van der Heide of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, as reported by CBS News.
“When assisted dying is becoming the more normal, there is a risk people will feel more inclined to ask for it.”
Arguably, the most tragic cases of euthanasia are often found in the elderly population, amongst those who are lonely and without friends or family to support them. “These are old people who may have health problems, but none of them are life-threatening. They’re old, they can’t get around, their friends are dead and their children don’t visit anymore,” Scott Kim, a bioethicist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “This kind of trend cries out for a discussion. Do we think their lives are still worthwhile?”
That alone issues a challenge to Christians and, to be honest, to anyone who has a heart. You can engage in a life-saving ministry by simply being a support, being kind and caring for people that have been forgotten.
Many ethicists are now using the example of the Netherlands to warn other nations who are seeking to introduce legislation that would legalize euthanasia. It may start as a law that allows euthanasia in just a tiny percentage of cases, but it also sets a legal precedent that may be open to future amendments that could result in assisted-suicide becoming increasingly prevalent.
“If you legalize on the broad basis (that) the Dutch have, then this increase is what you would expect,” said Penney Lewis, co-director of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College London. “Doctors become more confident in practicing euthanasia and more patients will start asking for it,” she said.
In 1997, Oregon became the first U.S. state tofor those given six months or less to live. The legality of euthanasia has now extended toColorado, California, Montana, Vermont, Washington state and the District of Columbia.
“Without a more restrictive system, like what you have in Oregon, you will naturally see an increase,” Lewis concluded.