The following presents an article by ‘Nuevo Curso’ apropos of the tragic suicide of a youngster, that was immediately subjected to an international media campaign on “state sponsored euthanasia” in the Netherlands. Our commentary shows how easily one can fall into hawking a rant, when not observing minimal standards of verification. In a separate topic article we present the results of a first examination of official mortality statistics in this country by medical end-of-life decisions over the period 1995 – 2015.
The social significance of “assisted suicide” and euthanasia
The approval by the Dutch state of Noa Pothoven’s assisted suicide surprises and moves half of Europe today. But can we be surprised? What lies beneath the consideration of euthanasia and suicide as an individual right?
The case of Noa Pothoven is far from unique. The number of assisted suicides with state approval in the Netherlands has multiplied by 2.4 since 2008 and continues to grow. In Spain, euthanasia is the core of the “new freedoms” promised by the “agenda of change”, the same agenda that’s trying to dynamite pensions with the “Austrian backpack”. This is not new, it has been one of the first elements of the parliamentary alliance between Podemos and Sánchez in their first hundred days, a demonstration of “liberalism” and “social progressiveness”. Or is it not?
What does it really mean to legalize assisted suicide?
The Dutch case, where the state assists the depressed in their suicide, may seem extreme, but in reality it is no different from the Spanish case. If we look at the causes of suicides organized with state blessing in Holland, we see that the vast majority of them is authorized for chronic diseases, although mental problems and depressions are rising the most.
The problem is that both depression and chronic illness are social facts. They do not occur in the abstract. The “individual” does not suffer them alone, but generally with his family. And he does so not in an “ideal” society but here and now, in the context of the destruction and precariousness of public health systems. More and more chronic or [potentially chronic] illnesses are excluded from Social Security coverage. The prospect is that this will go further.
Thus, in real life, euthanasia and “assisted suicide” mean giving many older people the option to “stop being a burden to their families”. What is glimpsed behind the door of social democratic demagogy is a real mass crime… as in Holland. Obviously, the affluent bourgeois and petty bourgeois families will not suffer with tears the grandfather’s desire to “not be a burden”, they will contract precarious and miserably paid care at home or in specialized clinics to provide for a dignified and gratifying life to their loved ones until the end.
What about depressives like Noa? For other victims of a system and a state that routinely produce discrimination and violence, including all kinds of child abuse and sexual violence, and that are by their very nature incapable of offering the least way to overcome it – let alone restore the victims – the choice is made to give them the “right” to die and thereby remove the “problem” of people they only know how to see as “damaged” and “unproductive”.
In other words, opening the door to “voluntary” death is as hypocritical as presenting prostitution or surrogate motherhood as a personal decision or an altruistic act. It is a measure of the degradation of a capitalism incapable of offering true development and true freedoms. A system and a state oriented towards death and war, which are incapable of generating liberating perspectives for Humanity, and try to console us with apocalyptic fantasies… which become a reality for many.
Nuevo Curso, June 5, 2019
Actualization of June 14:
After a couple of days in the news cycle, the media “discovered” that [Noa] had not suffered assisted suicide but that this had been rejected and she had committed suicide herself. As the news does not change the message and content of the article or its topicality, we have only corrected some statistical figures that have been scored by Dutch readers.
Source: El significado social del suicidio asistido y la eutanasia, https://nuevocurso.org/el-significado-social-del-suicidio-asistido-y-la-eutanasia/
Translation: H.C., June 13. Corrected version: June 21.
A commentary by the editor
Hawking the rant of “state-sponsored euthanasia” in the Netherlands
‘Nuevo Curso’s statement of June 5 ”The social significance of assisted suicide and euthanasia” initially took the suicide by self-starvation and self-dehydration of a severely depressed and physically ill Dutch youngster, at the age of 17, as a pretext to speak of “assisted suicides with state approval in the Netherlands” and “suicides organized with state blessings in Holland”.
In doing so, it has been echoing a short-lived but intense media-campaign about this case, waged notably by bourgeois right-wing media in the English language area, who have fallaciously pretended that the girl has been “legally euthanized” (read: ‘killed’) with the help of a “euthanasia clinic” in the Netherlands.
This allegation was categorically contradicted by a public statement by her family, (1) and by people close to her (among which a Dutch parliamentarian who had taken up contact). It has officially been denied by the Dutch minister of Health (2) and factually even by the aforementioned end-of-life clinic. Likewise, the media campaign was partially exposed by, for instance, Naomi O’Leary on June 5/6 at Politico, (3) whereas The Guardian pointed out an England based company “Central European News”, notorious for spreading gore, as the source by excellence of this ‘state euthanasia’ rant. (4) This all to the effect that several big media protagonists (from ‘Fox News’ to ‘The Washington Post’ in the USA, from the ‘Daily Mail’ to ‘The Independent’ in the UK and from ‘RT/TV Novosti’ to ‘Euronews’) had to “rectify” the fake news they had peddled.
The deceased youngster (5) had become publicly known as the author of an autobiographic book (6) about her fight against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anorexia and suicide wishes and attempts, as long-term consequences of sexual abuse at a child’s age and a rape in her early adolescence. She gave up her long fight for an adequate treatment by the Dutch health and “youth care” institutions and, after an official request for euthanasia had been turned down by the clinic, choose to die among her next of kin.
Whereas ‘Nuevo Curso’ had been quick to publish its statement, it took the comrades more than a week and an argued notification by A Free Retriever’s Digest before they corrected this disinformation in an “actualization” on their blog. Unfortunately, this did not admit having committed an error of judgment by themselves, but attributed its flagrant mistake to the “news cycle”.
A missing explanation
As the statement suggests that “(state) assisted suicide and euthanasia” would be routinely practiced in the Netherlands by way of a cynical reply of the bourgeoisie and its state to a degradation of the country’s health service, to the extent of constituting “a real mass crime” committed against the “damaged and unproductive” and the elderly in particular, we have asked the comrades to provide us with a “conclusive or plausible demonstration of this grave accusation (or diagnostic) regarding the situation in the Netherlands” that we have found missing in their statement. (our e-mail of June 15, 2019)
By return of post, instead of an explanation we received a rather stupefying rebuke: “The data, of course, also point to a real massacre in Holland. Five thousand people a year is not less [is not a few?; is not a trifle?, H.C.], but we take note of your criticism and feelings, and we will consider the idea that they decide to commit suicide because they can no longer endure as much happiness as national capital and the enlightened Dutch bourgeoisie provide them.” (reply e-mail of June 15, 2019)
Apparently we were not entitled to our request. Instead of explaining the thesis they adhere to, the comrades took their resort to substituting cynicism (“we will consider the idea they decide to commit suicide because they can no longer endure [the] happiness [that] national capital and the enlightened Dutch bourgeoisie provide them”) and dishonesty (“but we take note of your critics and feelings, and…”) for argument.
Having nevertheless been provided with the source from which ‘Nuevo Curso’ has adopted the statistics on “assisted suicides and euthanasia in the Netherlands”, (7) we have been able to verify that this is no other than the Dutch Regional Euthanasia Review Committees (RTE), the organs of the ‘Euthanasia Commission’ overseeing the medical practice in this regard, in a division of tasks and responsibilities with the national health inspection and the public prosecutor’s office. (8)
It strikes us as something of a sinister joke that ‘Nuevo Curso’, who accuses the “enlightened Dutch bourgeoisie” and its state of staging a domestic “mass crime” under pretext of “euthanasia”, respectively of an individual’s ultimate “choice” to end his or her life (without developing an argument), is capable of simultaneously expressing its confidence in the statistics of a commission that it must consider as complicit in this alleged “massacre” (the comrades see “no reason to doubt” their quality; reply e-mail of June 15, 2019).
But, perhaps, their confidence is in reality directed more toward the journal ‘El Confidencial’ than to the aforementioned Dutch review committees or the ‘euthanasia commission’? Apparently the statement uses an article by the former as a discreet intermediary to the latter, and had blindly echoed the gross exaggeration that “assisted suicides triple in a decade” (in the Netherlands from 2008 to 2015) until we noticed the discrepancy with the presented statistics (a growth factor of 2.4 instead of 3). (9)
The statement by ‘Nuevo Curso’ has evidently not come forth under a lucky star. Some mistakes might have been avoided, if more attention had been paid to available press critiques of the rant and if some scrutiny of sources had been applied before publishing.
The subsequent refusal to assume responsibility for the results of its indecent haste is more difficult to comprehend. When a specific case, that was supposed to serve as a clear demonstration of a crime or injustice that deserves to be denounced, turns out not to be what it was taken for, the sensitive thing to do would be to withdraw the statement as a whole, precisely in order not to compromise the underlying “message (etc.)”.
But most of all we were struck by the fact that ‘Nuevo Curso’ categorically regards “euthanasia” and “assisted suicide” simply as euphemisms for murder, apparently without any consideration of the suffering of the terminally ill. Snarling in reply to a simple request for an explanation of this stated position (which is precisely its “message and content”) will not convince anyone, but only cuts off an open exchange of views, inhibiting a fraternal discussion for clarification.
A necessary debate
We think that the delicate and difficult questions posed by the discussed phenomena in the context of a degradation of health services and social care, or a lack of access to them due to the effects of austerity policies, deserve a serious approach. One that should be able to avoid being caught up in a false opposition between competing bourgeois morals or “ethics”, like for instance between bourgeois “liberalism” and “conservatism”. A debate among those who adhere to the cause of proletarian emancipation should also take into account that certain moral dilemmas based on the development of medical science and technology, demographic developments like increases in life expectancy, (10) and changing patterns of need for cure and care, will not somehow be automatically resolved after a proletarian revolution, but will have to be taken up by the proletarians collectively under qualitatively different conditions.
Contributions on these topics and the fundamental questions they pose are rare within the milieu of the communist Left(s). They are more than necessary, as is the development of an open and honest, culture of debate, instead of sectarian bickering.
Henry Cinnamon, June 22, 2019
Related article on this blog: https://afreeretriever.wordpress.com/portfolio/deaths-by-medical-end-of-life-decisions-the-netherlands-1995-2015/
2 Euronews, June 6, 2019: Noa Pothoven: ‘no question of euthanasia’ says health minister after teen dies at home
3 Politico, June 5/6, 2019: The euthanasia that wasn’t
4 The Guardian, June 5, 2019: Dutch girl was not ‘legally euthanised’ and died at home
5 Wikipedia: Noa Pothoven
6 Wikipedia: Winnen of Leren
7 ‘El Confidencial’, 26/29 May 2016: “La eutanasia se populariza en Holanda: los suicidios asistidos se triplican en una década”
8 Euthanasiecommissie: Dutch Assisted Suicide & Euthanasia Annual Reports in English, German, French and Dutch.
9 Based on our research (see the article ‘Deaths by medical end-of-life decisions’ in the Netherlands (1995 – 2015) on this blog), we can add: From 2005 to 2015 “euthanasia and assisted suicides” in the Netherlands have increased together from 2.76% to 4.63% of the annual mortality, according to official statistics. This accounts for a growth factor of 1.68, which is significantly less than what ‘Nuevo Curso’ assumes (2.40).
10 On the topic of demographic trends, the article “250 years of Capitalism” on this blog provides an interesting, research based, statistic of life expectancy in the UK.