The troubled 29-year-old helped to die by Dutch doctors
BBC: In January a young Dutch woman drank poison supplied by a doctor and lay down to die. Euthanasia is legal in Holland, so hers was a death sanctioned by the state. But Aurelia Brouwers was not terminally ill – she was allowed to end her life on account of her psychiatric illness.
“I’m 29 years old and I’ve chosen to be voluntarily euthanised. I’ve chosen this because I have a lot of mental health issues. I suffer unbearably and hopelessly. Every breath I take is torture…”
A team from the Dutch TV network, RTL Nieuws spent two weeks recording Aurelia as she journeyed towards her date with death – 2pm on Friday, 26 January. On a whiteboard in her home, she crossed off the days with a heavy black marker pen.
During those last weeks, she spent her time with loved ones, doing craftwork and riding her bike in Deventer, the city she adored. She also visited the crematorium – the place she had chosen for her own funeral service. In many ways her story is uniquely Dutch. Euthanasia is against the law in most countries, but in the Netherlands it is allowed if a doctor is satisfied a patient’s suffering is “unbearable with no prospect of improvement” and if there is “no reasonable alternative in the patient’s situation”.
These criteria may be more straightforward to apply in the case of someone with a terminal diagnosis from untreatable cancer, who is in great pain. And the vast majority of the 6,585 deaths from euthanasia in Holland in 2017 were cases of people with a physical disease. But 83 people were euthanised on the grounds of psychiatric suffering. So these were people – like Aurelia – whose conditions were not necessarily terminal.
Aurelia Brouwers’ wish to die came with a long history of mental illness.
“When I was 12, I suffered from depression. And when I was first diagnosed, they told me I had Borderline Personality Disorder,” she says. “Other diagnoses followed – attachment disorder, chronic depression, I’m chronically suicidal, I have anxiety, psychoses, and I hear voices.”
Aurelia’s doctors would not endorse her requests for euthanasia. So she applied to the Levenseindekliniek – the End of Life Clinic – in The Hague. This is a place of last resort for those whose applications have been rejected by their own psychiatrist or GP. The clinic oversaw 65 of the 83 deaths approved on psychiatric grounds in Holland last year, though only about 10% of psychiatric applications are approved, and the process can take years.
“The psychiatric patients we see are younger than others,” says Dr Kit Vanmechelen, a psychiatrist who assesses applicants and performs euthanasia, but was not directly involved in Aurelia’s death.
“Aurelia Brouwers is an example of a very young woman. And that makes it harder to make the decision because in those cases, you take away a lot of life.”