Universiteit Leiden

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Anticipating an Unwanted Future: Euthanasia and Dementia in the Netherlands

Monday 9 November 2020

This paper presents an ethnographic exploration of the dynamics of anticipation. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with people with dementia and their families in the Netherlands, I examine how requests for euthanasia among people with dementia offer insight in the work of anticipation, as a temporal mode through which the future is made tangible. The imagined future with dementia is for many a reason to request euthanasia, which can be seen as a way to prevent an otherwise inevitable, and for some apocalyptic future. However, timing euthanasia with dementia is extremely difficult and often results in the deferral of established boundaries. Collaboratively, people with dementia, family members, and medical professionals seek to navigate the agonizing trade-off between being ‘too early’ for euthanasia and the fear of being ‘too late,’ continually testing out images of the unwanted future against changing circumstances in the present. Hence, contributing to an emerging anthropology of temporality, I argue that anticipation is a process of establishing, collapsing, and renegotiating the temporal distance between present and future, in which the imagined future demands action now, while also being a continuous ‘not yet.’

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