May 20, 2024

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, but are distant from the increasing number of deaths….

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

The Dutch Public Prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into the Last Wish Cooperative (Coöperatie Laatste Wil) , which claims to distribute 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”. 

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.”

Perhaps 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 are ethical; access to the means for suicide is a universal human right.

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), which operates within the law. She was even made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau for services to euthanasia. Perhaps she now feels that the Dutch law, however liberal it may seem to outsiders, is too restrictive.