Aurelia Brouwers was a healthy 29-year-old woman. She suffered no physical ailments. She did not have a terminal disease. Yet because she had a history of mental illness and suicidal behavior, she was euthanized. In 2017, Brouwers was one of 83 people killed by assisted suicide in the Netherlands for mental illness. Brouwer was young, yet suffered from anxiety, eating disorders, depression, psychosis, and a history of self-harm. She also had attempted suicide multiple times, and had spent years as a patient at a mental hospital. Mere hours before she died holding a toy pink dinosaur, she took to Facebook, writing, “I’m getting ready for my trip now. Thank you so much for everything. I’m no longer available from now on.”
In 2012, just 12 mental illness patients were killed by assisted suicide; by 2014, it had risen to 43. In 2016, the number had risen again to 64. And in addition to the 83 people with mental illnesses euthanized in 2017, an addition 169 people were euthanized because they had dementia, most of whom were in the early stages of their disease.
Professor Theo Boer originally supported the Netherlands’ assisted suicide legislation, but quickly became disillusioned. He resigned from a regulatory body in 2014 over the rising numbers of people dying. “Supply has created demand,” he said. “We’re getting used to euthanasia, that is exactly what should not happen. We’re no longer speaking about the exceptional situations that the law was created for, but a gradual process towards organised death.” Boer is not alone. According to The Guardian:
Last year a group of 220 [doctors] took out a newspaper advertisement saying they would refuse to euthanise patients with dementia who were unable to give verbal consent, even if the individual had signed a declaration of wishes in advance. “Our moral abhorrence at ending the life of a defenceless person is too great,” they wrote.
To make the situation even more disturbing, the Netherlands also recently put into place legislation which mandates that everyone is an organ donor, unless they specifically opt out. Couple that with the Netherlands’ euthanasia-friendly atmosphere, where healthy people like Aurelia can be killed, and it’s easy to be concerned.
In the Netherlands, people have been euthanized for being autistic, suicidal victims of sexual abuse, or addicts. Other victims have suffered delusions or heard voices. Indeed, 1 in 3 Dutch doctors said they would be willing to euthanize someone with a mental illness. The American Pyschiatric Association has responded to the spread of assisted suicide for mental illnesses by releasing a statement condemning the practice. Dr. Martin Komrad, of the APA ethics committee, said the statement was specifically aimed towards countries like the Netherlands in Europe.
“So far, no other country that has implemented physician-assisted suicide has been able to constrain its application solely to the terminally ill, eventually including non-terminal patients as legally eligible as well,” he said. “This is when psychiatric patients start to be included.”
People with mental illnesses are among the most vulnerable, which is why they — along with the poor, the disabled, and the elderly — make such easy targets for assisted suicide. These are people who deserve support and compassion, who need better medical care, not a prescription for death. And yet, if assisted suicide continues to spread unchecked, more innocent people will become victims of this culture of death.