In June, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and DunnMedia & Entertainment released Fatal Flaws: Legalizing Assisted Death, a full-length documentary examining the long-term consequences of legal assisted suicide. Kevin Dunn, the filmmaker, travelled to the Netherlands, Belgium, the U.S., and Canada to interview patients and physicians who have been affected by these laws, both assisted suicide advocates and those who oppose them. The film is chilling. It reveals how assisted suicide, once legalized, can transform a culture and alter the way it treats those who are suffering.
The concern that Dunn expresses throughout the film is how these laws have gradually expanded in Europe from the terminally ill, to the chronically ill, to the mentally ill, and finally to those who are simply “tired of life.” He fears the same loosening of assisted suicide laws—especially of eligibility requirements—will happen in the U.S. and Canada, too. Of course, what’s happening overseas cannot necessarily predict the future in North America. But Dunn clearly believes we should take note.
Psychiatric patients “not treatable”?
The 80-minute film features several testimonies from patients and their families who have been affected by assisted suicide laws. Featured interviews include a young disabled woman who was pressured to end her own life due to treatable medical complications, a daughter whose elderly mother was euthanized without family consent, and an elected representative whose husband was pressured to “get out of the way” when he became critically ill.
But the most disturbing moment is when viewers meet Aurelia Brouwers, a 29-year-old woman from the Netherlands. “I’m very interested in euthanasia,” she says. Physically, Aurelia is healthy; her reason for wanting euthanasia is an ongoing struggle with “severe psychiatric problems.” People like her—people in profound mental anguish—are “not treatable anymore,” she tells Dunn. In her opinion, their suffering ought to make them candidates for lethal drugs.
When Dunn asked Aurelia what she would do if a cure for her suffering was discovered the next day, she replied, “I don’t believe there is any cure for me left.” “So, no hope?” asked Dunn. “No, I don’t believe there is any,” she answered.
Dunn fights back tears as he reflects on the encounter: “I have to ask, who has failed her?”
Dunn kept in touch with Aurelia and says he pleaded with her to change her mind. Above all, he wanted her to know, “there is always hope, that the world is a better place with her in it.” But tragically, Aurelia followed through on her death wish. She killed herself with lethal drugs on January 26, 2018, assisted by a doctor from the End-of-Life Clinic in the Netherlands.
The worst suffering is existential, not physical
Aurelia’s story is a tragedy. It is also a crucial part of the story that Dunn is trying to tell. Aurelia’s conviction that she is beyond rescue rips wide open the real issue behind assisted suicide and euthanasia: existential despair.
Research consistently indicates that physical suffering is not the reason people choose assisted suicide. That choice comes primarily from fear: fear of being a burden on loved ones, of “losing dignity,” of being dependent on others. Underpinning all these fears is a loss of hope that life, even with suffering, even with disability, is still worth fighting for. Patients who choose assisted suicide no longer believe there is hope for them—which is exactly what Aurelia falsely believed when she ended her life.
The worst suffering is not physical; it is existential. When we give people access to legal assisted suicide, we communicate to them that it is good to give in to despair, that they are better off dead than alive.
Where does it end?
For more than a decade, Oregon was the only state in the U.S. with assisted suicide on the books. Since then, there appears to have been something like a domino-effect, with six other states and Washington D.C. following suit in rapid-fire succession. Compassion & Choices and its affiliates have had a hand in passing every one of these laws and now they are pushing for the legalization of assisted suicide in Minnesota. They cloak their agenda in the language of compassion, arguing that assisted suicide (or, as they insist on calling it, “medical aid-in-dying”) relieves unbearable suffering.
But the truly unbearable suffering is that of despair and purposelessness. Experiencing these things is normal for people facing serious illness and death, but the proper response is love, support, and compassion, not quick-and-easy death on demand. In Minnesota, no one should die thinking that the world will be better off without them, that it is better for them to die than to live. We are known for excellence in health care and are working to make palliative care better and more available to Minnesotans. Assisted suicide is a false compassion; it sends the wrong message to those struggling to hope.
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