NRL News

Debunking the Dutch myth that euthanasia “is one of the crown jewels of our liberal country”

by | Jan 29, 2015


By Dave Andrusko

GerbervanLoenenbookYou could spend a lot of time trying to figure out what are the most dangerous components powering the physician-assisted suicide machine. Instead let me cut right to chase, having read National Post columnist Barbara Kay’s review/précis of a new book titled Do You Call This a Life? Blurred Boundaries in the Netherlands’ Right-to-Die Laws.

They are what the book’s author, Dutch journalist Gerbert van Loenen, calls a species of medical “paternalism”; “acceptance of euthanasia has progressed to the point that it is no longer the physician who ends someone’s life without request who must justify his actions; rather it is the physician who decides to prolong a life perceived as meaningless who feels societal pressure” (to quote Kay); and “the marginalization of the central actor—the ‘better-off-dead’ person — as the discussion turns more and more to the sensibilities of those who are affronted by his continued existence.”

Just a word of background. Van Loenen’s partner was sick for a long time, having suffered a brain injury during an operation to remove a small brain tumor. The injury left his partner (Niek) “permanently disabled, yet still able to enjoy quality of life” and he died a natural death.

What proved to be the inspiration (or prod) for the book, Kay writes, is the reaction of certain friends.

“It would have been better if he had died,” one said at the outset. Another told Niek when he expressed frustration, “You choose to go on living, so you have no right to complain.” Once “an average Dutchman who thought of euthanasia as one of the crown jewels of our liberal country,” van Loenen became “someone who was shocked by the harsh tone used by the Dutch when they talked about handicapped life.”

The review is very, very much worth your reading, so let me make just two quick observations.

“Progressivism,” as least in the Netherlands, has become (perhaps unknowingly) indistinguishable from a thinly-disguised contempt for anyone who has the bad manners not to “get out of the way”—kill themselves when times turn tough. What’s happened has confirmed what we always said: it is only a hop, skip, and a jump from the “right” to assisted suicide to the duty to commit suicide. A “better off dead” judgmentalism is rampant, according to the book.

What’s new for me was how Van Loenen carefully parses who has the upper hand in the situation. Right to Die activists cite the Netherlands as the very epitome of “euthanasia progressivism.” But according to Kay’s reading of van Loenen

the Netherlands’ euthanasia law does not recognize any such right. In 1984, the country’s Supreme Court accepted euthanasia, but rejected self-determination as the driver. The law in fact focuses on the right of the physician to exercise his compassion in what is deemed a “situation of necessity.” Citizens “may request,” but cannot demand, euthanasia. So in fact the law endorses a species of medical “paternalism.” Van Loenen claims this compassion-based perspective “is the opposite of self-determination,” which he continues to support.

Which of the three strands is worse? They are mutually reinforcing so it is difficult to say. But the culmination is that increasingly we are putting “loved ones out of our misery,” as Wesley Smith has so keenly observed.

Euthanizing newborns is not new in the Netherlands. It is allowed (as Michael Cook has noted,

under the so-called Groningen Protocol, drafted by Dr. Eduard Verhagen in 2004.

The stunning novelty of this statement is that it says that the parents’ suffering may be a reason to kill the newborn. Amongst other conditions, the policy states that a lethal injection of muscle relaxant is ethically possible when “The period of gasping and dying persists and the inevitable death is prolonged, in spite of good preparation, and it causes severe suffering for the parents

However as van Loenen (and Kay) make clear, what was once a kind of novelty is now the order of the day, not just for injured newborns, but an ever-enlarging pool of helpless victims.

Please join those who are following me on Twitter at Send your comments to

Categories: Euthanasia