The shadowy world of 'euthanasia fundamentalism'

Is Stephen King looking for a new plot for a novel? How about the activities of a shadowy network dedicated to helping people commit suicide? It operates outside the law with the connivance of authorities; its reach is international; its spokesmen are well-known and their hands are clean; its victims increase steadily... 

Something like this exists in Australia (Philip Nitschke’s Exit International); the UK (ditto); and the United States (Final Exit Network). And now a similar group has emerged in the Netherlands, the Last Wish Cooperative.

The Dutch Public Prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into Coöperatie Laatste Wil (CLW), which claims that it is distributing a deadly powder to people who want to commit suicide. Despite the notoriety of Dutch end-of-life legislation, assisted suicide without the help of a doctor is strictly illegal. But after a 19-year-old girl killed herself with a lethal powder last month, public attention has focused on CLW’s activities, even though it appears that she did not obtain the substance through CLW.

CLW announced last September that it would make available a suicide agent, which it called “X”, to its members. Therefore the public prosecutor suspects that CLW members are “participating in an organization that aims to commit crimes”. In the United States this is called racketeering and in fact, members of the Final Exit Network in the state of Georgia were indicted under its Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. 

According to its website, “Cooperative Last Will accommodates people who favour the concept of assisted suicide and self-euthanasia without intervention of doctors and want to make early preparation by joining with others who share their views.”

There appear to be links to Australian activist Philip Nitschke. He lives in the Netherlands and his book The Peaceful Pill Handbook is recommended by CLW. He enthusiastically welcomed CLW’s announcement:  

“With the wide, legal availability of this new drug, no one will bother with a restrictive euthanasia legislation that requires people close to death to obtain permission from a doctor to die. When the time is right, people craving a peaceful death, will simply take this new drug. No one will bother with the legislative safeguards in new proposed legislation, when this product becomes available.”

The prime force behind the emergence of CLW (and the other organisations) is euthanasia fundamentalism. Several groups promote euthanasia in the Netherlands, but always within the limits imposed by the law. Fundamentalist groups believe, however, that no restrictions could ever be ethical; access to the means for suicide is a universal human right. They are organised and active -- and hard to shut down. For years Australian authorities have tried to suppress Nitschke's activities, but without success. Proving that a crime has been committed is difficult and prosecutions are rare and unpopular. 

It’s interesting to note that the spokeswoman for CLW is Petra de Jong, a distinguished doctor who formerly served as director of the Dutch Association for a Voluntary End of Life (NVVE), the leading Dutch end-of-life organisation. She was even made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau for services to euthanasia.

Apparently she now feels that the Dutch law, however liberal it may seem to outsiders, is far too conservative.  

Stephen King, where are you when we need you? Isn't this ghoulish enough for you?


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