Physically healthy Dutch woman undergoes euthanasia for depression

assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia

A physically healthy 29-year-old woman in the Netherlands was euthanized last week due to depression, sparking international debate as to how lenient euthanasia laws should be.

Zoraya ter Beek’s death on May 22 was legally sanctioned by the government due to her “unbearable mental suffering.” Per news reports, she suffered from depression, autism, and borderline personality disorder — not a terminal illness, which is the standard requirement for most euthanasia approvals.

The Netherlands approved euthanasia for psychiatric suffering in 2002. According to The Guardian, it remains relatively rare, though the numbers are rising; in 2010 there were two cases of euthanasia due to psychiatric suffering, while in 2023, there were 138, accounting for 1.5% of the country’s 9,068 euthanasia deaths.

“People think that when you’re mentally ill, you can’t think straight, which is insulting,” ter Beek told The Guardian in an interview prior to her death. “I understand the fears that some disabled people have about assisted dying, and worries about people being under pressure to die. But in the Netherlands, we’ve had this law for more than 20 years. There are really strict rules, and it’s really safe.”

Zoraya ter Beek’s story has made headlines because she was very public about her wish to die, giving numerous interviews and explaining that depression was the reason for her request. “People want to be able to see that you are suffering. That you cry. But yes, I put on makeup and dress well when I go out,” she said. “They only see me happily doing my thing, not on the days when I lie in bed all day.”

This admission, and the government’s stamp of approval on her euthanasia, is what makes the situation tragic — rather than receiving the critical mental health she needed, ter Beek was given the option to end her life. This isn’t the caring, compassionate death that so many assisted death proponents are advocating for; it’s a tragic admission of defeat.

In 2016, the American Psychiatric Association took a stand against assisted suicide and euthanasia for mental illness, stating, “The American Psychiatric Association, in concert with the American Medical Association’s position on Medical Euthanasia, holds that a psychiatrist should not prescribe or administer any intervention to a non-terminally ill person for the purpose of causing death.”

Stef Groenewoud, a healthcare ethicist at Theological University Kampen, told The Free Press that he is worried about the uptick in euthanasia deaths for psychiatric reasons. “I’m seeing euthanasia as some sort of acceptable option brought to the table by physicians, by psychiatrists, when previously it was the ultimate last resort,” he said. “I see the phenomenon especially in people with psychiatric diseases, and especially young people with psychiatric disorders, where the healthcare professional seems to give up on them more easily than before.”

Theo Boer, a healthcare ethics professor at Protestant Theological University in Groningen, resigned after serving on the country’s euthanasia board from 2005 to 2014, saying, “In those years, I saw the Dutch euthanasia practice evolve from death being a last resort to death being a default option.” As euthanasia deaths are continuing to rise for a variety of reasons, and advocates are working for more legalized death, data appears to confirm Boer’s statement.

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