Should elderly be allowed to end their own lives?

The Dutch government wants to make it possible for elderly people who are not seriously ill to end their own lives. Loneliness or the loss of independence can cause just as much suffering as illness and are therefore a legitimate reason for assisted suicide, a report put out by the country's Ministries of Health and Justice has found. Commentators ask how far self-determination should be taken.

Open/close all quotes
Le Quotidien (LU) /

The ideology behind it is terrible

If you allow active assisted dying, you unavoidably put pressure on older people who don't feel useful any more, Le Quotidien warns:

“Individually speaking these people would perhaps welcome the opportunity to cut short their lives like this. But in terms of society as a whole, we have to see this as a disturbing ideology. It conveys the impression - whether you like it or not - that lonely old people who are no longer productive and have no family to support them are basically useless for society. And that therefore it would be only logical to get rid of them one way or another. How can anyone believe this will not result in some form of social pressure on other older people that makes them feel 'superfluous'?”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

The state must show compassion

The state should offer people a way out when they don't want to live any more, De Volkskrant argues:

“A growing number of old people want to be able to decide for themselves when their life is complete - after careful reflection and without external pressure. The opponents point to a lack of proper care and compassion. Yes, of course it would be preferable for old people not to feel lonely. But there are examples of old people who had plenty of loving friends and relatives around them but still didn't want to continue living. This has often led to painful suicides. The ministers are right to point out that in this situation too people have a right to a state that doesn't persecute them but helps them. The plan raises many questions. … But with compassion as its starting point the cabinet has taken a step in the right direction.”

Trouw (NL) /

A dangerous decision

The Dutch government can count on receiving the support of a parliamentary majority for its plan. Trouw warns against premature steps:

“Experts have already ascertained that the group of elderly people who no longer want to live is very small. So there's no reason for a radical legal amendment that also entails major risks, such as increased pressure on the elderly and their doctors. ... One must also ask whether the elderly really decide that their lives are over on their own, or whether their family or other people affected by the situation interfere. ... Making autonomy the highest ideal is already questionable. But giving the state a role in the question of when a life can be ended autonomously is not only in contradiction with the very idea of autonomy, it's also dangerous. ... Our society is still very much in the dark on this issue, so caution is needed.”