The Dutch mouse that roared
By Paul Russell
Public challenges to the zeitgeist on euthanasia are rare in the Netherlands. The practice of deliberately killing patients in Holland has a long history reaching back more than thirty years. The Dutch, like their Belgian neighbours, have grown used to the idea. Promotion of the practice through sympathetic propaganda on prime time television and even a euthanasia film festival a few years ago have served the agenda to normalise the practice.
This has lead some commentators to suggest that everything is going just fine and dandy in the Low Countries, supposing that the cultural acceptance of euthanasia is a sign that the practice is entirely under control. The lack of political opposition has been cited by the likes of Peter Singer in an attempt to confirm this. This is thinking in a bubble: it ignores the realities that what is legal becomes broadly accepted as being moral and that repeal or reform is incredibly difficult in such circumstances.
But opposition does exist and has always existed. Principally held by disenfranchised voices, there is nevertheless significant disquiet in many quarters; exemplified by the public declarations of people like Professor Theo Boer who once supported the Dutch law but has changed his mind under close observation of developments in recent years.
One would think that, in such circumstances and in a society noted for its tolerance, that the occasional roar of a mouse against the zeitgeist would be simply noted and then largely ignored. Not so if the recent declarations by the Reformed Political Party (SGP) at their annual convention are anything to go by.
The SGP is Holland's oldest political party. Confessionally Calvinist, they have been a consistent yet very small player in the Dutch Parliament currently holding three seats in the Dutch House of Representatives (out of 150) and being one of thirteen parties in that chamber.
At their national convention this week in Hoevelaken, party leader, Kees van der Staaij, took the SGP's longstanding opposition to Dutch Euthanasia Laws to a new level. Van der Staaij wants to fuel the international concern about Dutch euthanasia through the production of an English language documentary on Dutch euthanasia practice so as to engage the international anglophone media.
"Van der Staaij says people are shocked abroad when he says that it is used in the Netherlands (for) euthanasia on people with mental illness and dementia. He also claims that this happens "without being able to explain at the time that they really want, and without a court is involved." (see, for example, the recent Dutch nursing home dementia case)
The Dutch Euthanasia organisation NVVE are not amused. But instead of ignoring the SGP commentary - as would any rational organisation confident of its position and confident that such a call would simply fade into obscurity - the NVVE and others have fought back in the media. Is there something to hide here? Is the NVVE cultural reign on shaky ground?
The NVVE railed against the SGP in the Dutch media claiming that they are putting Dutch euthanasia policy in a 'deliberately bad light'. Full marks there. Spokesperson, Dick Bosscher cited support from 'sister' organisations around the globe to somehow claim that the international opinion of the Dutch death regime is somehow positive.
Another commentator, Rik de Jong, claimed that van der Staaij had 'crossed a line' by seeking to expose the Dutch regime internationally. Somehow, according to de Jong, it is acceptable for the SGP to hold a Christian perspective on the issue and to make a 'constructive contribution' to debate; but clearly not to rattle the cage internationally: keep 'the opinion of foreign conservatives outside'!
So what's the problem? If everything is above board, if there are no problems, if there are no abuses, surely there is a robust defence of the Dutch euthanasia laws from within the polity and the public that can stand such scrutiny?