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‘Private member's bill on Ending Life with Dignity too defective'

The D66 proposed bill on Ending Life with Dignity is inadequately substantiated and contains contradictions. This is the view expressed by Professor of Political Philosophy Paul Nieuwenburg in his inaugural lecture on 17 March.

Suffering from a 'completed life'

D66 wants to offer people aged 75 and older the possibility of opting to die with dignity if they feel they are 'suffering from a completed life'. At the end of 2016, the party submitted a private member's bill proposing a law on assessing the end-of-life guidance of the elderly, when the individual requests this. According to Leiden political scientist Paul Nieuwenburg, the proposed bill is on many points vague, and contradictory.

Responsibility of the end-of-life counsellor

This applies, for example, to the end-of-life counsellor. According to the Explanatory Memorandum, 'after extensive and pervasive discussions,' the counsellor has to verify whether the applicant considers his or her life to be completed and on that basis wishes to end it. The same Explanatory Memorandum also states that people of 75 years and older can judge for themselves whether their life is completed, and that ultimately each individual can only make that judgement with respect to his or her own life.  This contradiction means that the authority of the end-of-life counsellor is unclear, in Nieuwenburg's judgement. ‘That's a crucial point, because the end-of-life counsellor seems to have the final word on the "completed life" issue.' 

Joseph Raz wrongly cited

This counsellor ought to know what a completed life is, but, according to Nieuwenburg, this has not yet been properly defined in the proposed bill. The Explanatory Memorandum describes individuals having a completed life as those whose poor physical condition makes it impossible for them to give shape to their life story.  The metaphor of the biography is also used by well-known political philosopher Joseph Paz, who has been wrongly cited, according to Nieuwenburg. The Memorandum says: 'The definition of autonomy by philosopher Joseph Raxis is "being the author of your own life." However, an important word has been omitted. Raz states in his book The Morality of Freedom (1986) that 'An autonomous person is partly the author of his own life.'

Proposed bill leads to disappointment

Nieuwenbrug stresses that there is a big difference between being partly or wholly the author of your own life. You can be intelligent and have an independent spirit, but nonetheless unable to manage your own life through sickness or unforeseen factors. If you accept that, you will find it easier to cope with setbacks and imperfections. 'The proposed bill suggests that we have full control over the biography of our life and that it is only at the end of our life that our biology has a problematic effect. Anyone harbouring this illusion is pre-programmed for disappointment.'

Creating the conditions for an autonomous life

The proposed bill implies that a good life is an autonomous life, according to Nieuwenburg. 'Based on that criterion, the state should create the conditions for an autonomous life, not for an autonomous death. The political theory of the complete life in this proposed bill has a number of serious defects and is full of contradictions. It is not a proper foundation for a law on life and death.'

Photo: Piet Jiskoot has been campaigning for years for a euthanasia pill for people who feel that their life is complete.