Former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt and his wife committed legally assisted suicide by simultaneous euthanasia this week, the non-profit organisation founded by the ex-Dutch leader has revealed.
Public broadcaster Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS) reported on Friday that former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt (93), who led the Netherlands from 1977 to 1982, and his wife Eugenie van Agt (93) opted on Monday to take their lives in a joint act of euthanasia, which is legally permitted under medical supervision in the Western European nation.
Gerard Jonkman, the director of The Rights Forum non-profit founded by Van Agt in 2009, said that the former prime minister had discussed the option of assisted suicide after suffering a brain haemorrhage in 2019, saying that he said it was an “option if life and suffering became unbearable.”
Since then, Van Agt’s health, as well as his wife’s, steadily declined, according to Jonkman, who said: “His health became more and more fragile, and he wanted to focus his attention on his wife, children and grandchildren.” He said that their decision to commit assisted suicide hand in hand came from a feeling that they “couldn’t live without each other”.
The couple, who were married for seven decades, were buried together on Thursday. The Dutch public broadcaster noted that assisted suicide was a curious decision by Van Agt, given that he was a lifelong Roman Catholic — a faith which preaches against suicide — and a former member of the socially conservative Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA).
However, Jonkman noted that the former prime minister was always “idiosyncratic” and that Van Agt “never checked whether his own views are completely in line with those of a party or institution.”
Jonkman went on to note that Van Agt had also become more “progressive” in his later years, even going so far as to cancel his membership in the CDA over the party’s support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas, and in his view ignoring the “immense suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people”.
Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt and his wife Eugenie in conversation with American Vice President Walter Mondale. April 21, 1979. Wikipedia Commons.
Joint euthanasia is a relatively rare occurrence in The Netherlands, with just 58 people, or 29 couples, opting to end their lives together in 2022 out of the nearly 9,000 instances of medically supervised euthanasia, according to the Dutch Association for a Voluntary End of Life (NVVE).
Fransien van ter Beek, the chairwoman of the NVVE, said that it does not happen very often, in part because the process requires that both partners are questioned individually to rule out any coercion.
“It is therefore not an easy path, because both partners must be assessed separately,” she said, adding; “The most important requirement is that there is hopeless and unbearable suffering, and the request must be voluntary and well-considered.”
In the case of joint euthanasia, two doctors are required to perform the operation to ensure that both partners die at the same time. The NVVE chairwoman said: “We know from experience that people find it a beautiful thought. Especially after a lifetime together in which people have become fused with each other… You no longer have to experience the death of the other person, so you save yourself the grief.”
The expanded use of euthanasia in the West has become an increasingly contentious issue, with Justin Trudeau’s Canada coming under particular scrutiny. Amid public backlash, Trudeau’s Liberal government backtracked last month on plans to extend the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) programme to people suffering from mental illness.