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November 3, 2016

Should the Dutch extend euthanasia to the ‘well’ elderly?

Extending assistance to die to the so-called ‘well elderly’ is a topic that has long been of interest to Exit.

Indeed, it is one of the reasons that the Peaceful Pill Handbook is published.

In recognising ‘euthanasia’ – a good death – as a civil right, it is only logical that those with a terminal illness or unbearable suffering should not be the only ones to be able to die well.

A peaceful death is everybody’s right.

In stating that the Dutch law will be changed, the Dutch government is acknowledging this sentiment fully.

In Holland, this phenomenon is referred to as ‘completed life’.

That is, older people who feel they have lived a good and long life, are going to have the option to go at a time of their choosing.

While the Dutch are stopping short of legalizing the possession of Nembutal by the elderly, the model they are proposing is an interesting mix of the medical model (approval from doctors is needed) and the civil rights model (accessible to everyone).

The new extension to the Dutch euthanasia laws will be limited to the elderly. So this is not allowing teenagers or those in mid life to opt out.

Rather it is a typically pragmatic Dutch way of alleviating the cruelty that can be associated with forcing someone to live on past their chosen time.

Philip Nitschke’s mother Gwen was one such person who would have benefited greatly from a law like this. That is, if she had been Dutch (which she wasn’t).

Gwen Nitschke spent her last 6 years in an Australian nursing home.

And she hated it.

Even if assisted dying had been legal in Australia (which it isn’t), Gwen would never have qualified to get help to die.

Gwen’s problem was that she was not sick. She was just old.

Gwen on her 95th Birthday

Philip with Gwen on her 95th Birthday

Her friends had all died. Her looks and her mobility had gone. But every day she was forced to go on.

What was the purpose of living she would often ask?

And before you ask, no she was not depressed.

She simply thought she had completed her life and now was the time to go.

Last December, Gwen finally passed away after receiving terminal sedation and being in a coma for 3 days.

Hardly the dignified end that she wanted.

RIP Gwen Nitschke

Fiona Stewart

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