No one could deny that Aurelia Brouwers was a troubled young woman. Dogged by mental illness from an early age, she entered adulthood suicidal. She spent nearly three years in a psychiatric institution as a result and also served two-and-half years in prison for arson. She suffered from depression, anxiety and eating problems, and had a borderline personality disorder. She would also mutilate and burn herself, which left her in constant pain and prone to continuous infections.
Last September, Aurelia spent nearly two days in intensive care after yet another attempt to take her own life. Three months later, she finally obtained what she was really seeking: doctors and a psychologist agreed that she met the criteria for euthanasia in the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act. After learning of their decision on New Year’s Eve, Aurelia waited just over three weeks for the day, on January 26, when she received a series of injections. The final one stopped her heart beating.
Her suffering was over, but so was her life, and this tragic 29-year-old from a remote village in the eastern Netherlands became the latest case of a proliferating number of euthanasia deaths for “unbearable” and “hopeless” psychiatric reasons.
She is thought to be the second abuse victim to have died in this way in as many years. The first known case also involved a Dutch woman in her 20s who suffered abuse as a child and was suicidal and self-harming after enduring 15 years of post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia, flashbacks, hallucinations, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and mood swings.
Aurelia’s death by euthanasia was based on a highly contentious interpretation of a law passed principally to alleviate agony in patients with cancer and other terminal and incurable diseases – the sort of cases that assisted dying advocates in Britain often propose as examples to demonstrate why laws which prohibit assisted dying should be changed.
But critics argue that in just 16 years Netherlands has hurtled with such alacrity down the slippery slope that euthanasia today seems accessible to anyone capable of arguing convincingly that their lives have become an irredeemably unbearable mess.
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