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February 18, 2024

Couples Going Together: the Luck of Timing

Last week, former Dutch Prime Minister, Dries van Agt died at his home in Nijmegen.

His wife Eugenie died alongside him.

These deaths have sparked significant international media coverage, making much mention of the fact that they died holding hands. Both were 93 years. Both were very ill.

Despite much of the reporting, the chances of a couple being able to get voluntary euthanasia in order to go together remains very low, even in the Netherlands.

Unlike in Switzerland where help to die is a human right, in the Netherlands getting euthanasia is a medical privilege reserved for the very sick and suffering.

The van Agt’s got lucky. They both got sick (enough) at the same time in order to get help to die.

It is this quirk of timing that enabled them to die lovingly together, nothing else. It was pure their luck of the draw.

Some media, both at home and abroad, have made much of the fact that euthanasia could have been seen as the ultimate hypocrisy for a such a staunch catholic as van Agt.

As a politician (his background was in the law), van Agt remains a controversial figure in the Netherlands for his attempted same day closure in 1976 of the Bloemenhove abortion clinic, claiming there had been an abortion explosion.

Van Agt ordered the police to close the clinic (which was known to perform late term abortions) immediately. The closure was prevented by women’s movement activists. The courts would later rule that the clinic was to remain open.

Yet, everyone can change, and so it was for van Agt who, in his later years, was said to have moved to the left: transitioning from his Catholic People’s Party (the forerunner of today’s Christian Democratic Appeal party – CDA) to voting Greens and becoming an advocate for a free Palestine.

Dries and Eugenie were not just any Dutch couple. He was Dries van Agt, a Catholic and former Christian Democrat prime minister between 1977 and 1982. He and Eugenie Krekelberg had three children and seven grandchildren to whom they said a peaceful farewell. The news was announced four days later, when they had already been buried.

Dries van Agt called his wife “my girl.” She was the cornerstone of his life and neither could contemplate leaving each other behind. A lover of cycling with a cultivated use of the Dutch language that earned him the reputation of being somewhat archaic, Dries met Eugenie when they were students and were rarely apart thereafter.

As a Catholic, euthanasia seems an odd choice for Dries van Agt.

However, the former prime minister, who ended up voting for the greens and criticized official Dutch policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict, had ditched his Christian Democratic membership.

Of the 8,720 cases of voluntary euthanasia that occurred in the Netherlands in 2022, in 2021 only 32 people who died were couples (16 couples).

Yet Exit has always been privy to couples who want to go together.

From Syd and Marjorie Croft over 20 years ago, to Don and Iris Flounders, and, more recently, Athol and Beverley Whiston.

Peter and Pat Shaw’s story appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

But it takes a lot of effort and planning for a long-term partners to be able to die in each others arms, whether at home, in Peru or in Switzerland.

And it is this type arrangement that medically-based end of life laws excludes, unless both partners are sick at the same time, as was the ‘lucky’ case of the van Agts.

Read the March 2024 Peaceful Pill eHandbook Essentials Update on the this topic.