LETTER: Situation not cool and clinical

When people read about ‘death on request’ and ‘doctor-assisted suicide’ as Sir Peter Bottomley puts it in his article (February 8), they will get the idea that in my country people just ask to be killed and that their death wish is granted without much ado. Like ordering a beer in a pub.

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The reality in The Netherlands, however, is completely different and to give your readers a more complete picture I would like to illustrate that with the help of two cases, one public and a private one.

In February, 2010, Mr Albert Herringa, 74, helped his 99-year-old mother to end her life. During the last years of her long life she became more and more bed-ridden and went blind. Although she was not ‘ill’ in the sense of the law, she was determined and absolutely compos mentis when she decided that her life was ‘fulfilled’ and wanted to die in peace. As her physical condition was considered not serious enough, no GP was willing to help her because that would be against the law.

‘Moek’ (officially she had been his stepmother since the age of two when his mother was murdered in Ravensbrück) asked her son for help.

Eventually he agreed to buy the necessary pills and his mother agreed to everything being filmed so that her son could prove that she did everything herself (in case a court case would follow). She swallowed a large number of pills with a bowl of yoghurt, while talking in order to prove that she was in her right mind and confirming it was her own wish.

The video images became part of a documentary that was broadcast and this led to a court case two years later. It was not until seven-and-a-half years later that Mr Heringa was definitely acquitted, but still found guilty for ‘providing the means’ and he got a suspended sentence of six months’ imprisonment.

Two years ago our good friend Ad, 86, realised that his memory was failing and just over a year later he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

He had been a specialist (anaesthetist) and was fully aware of the consequences of this disease. After many, obviously emotional, discussions with his wife and children, they finally agreed to prevent the last stages of the disease.

His GP agreed to help him when the moment would come (according to the law: when the person can still express his own wishes) and saw him once a month for over two years to follow the whole process.

Finally a date was agreed upon, a second GP from another practice (he did not know Ad as a patient, this is obligatory by law) also agreed that the patient was rapidly deteriorating.

One day before the euthanasia would take place, it was postponed. Imagine the commotion and extra grief for his wife Meike and their children – and last but not least Ad himself!

It turned out the a so-called SCEN doctor had to be consulted. These doctors are experienced in these matters and also in the legal aspects of the cases and have to give a final independent judgement). He assented on the day the euthanasia had originally been planned... and a new date had to be arranged.

The crematorium had to be cancelled, relatives and friends had to be informed, cards reprinted, and on December 16 of last year we attended Ad’s last farewell.

Two weeks later we paid his wife a visit and she said: “It was incredibly difficult and moving, but the peace for him... If only this could be a solution for those who want euthanasia and are entitled to it, within the law, of course.”

I hope to have informed your readers more fully about the situation in The Netherlands because the general situation is far more complicated than the cool and clinical phrases in the article suggest.

Hans Muller



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