Countries around the world are making it easier to choose the time and manner of your death. But doctors in the world’s euthanasia capital are starting to worry about the consequences

By Christopher de Bellaigue

Last year a Dutch doctor called Bert Keizer was summoned to the house of a man dying of lung cancer, in order to end his life. When Keizer and the nurse who was to assist him arrived, they found around 35 people gathered around the dying man’s bed. “They were drinking and guffawing and crying,” Keizer told me when I met him in Amsterdam recently. “It was boisterous. And I thought: ‘How am I going to cleave the waters?’ But the man knew exactly what to do. Suddenly he said, ‘OK, guys!’ and everyone understood. Everyone fell silent. The very small children were taken out of the room and I gave him his injection. I could have kissed him, because I wouldn’t have known how to break up the party.”

Keizer is one of around 60 physicians on the books of the Levenseindekliniek, or End of Life Clinic, which matches doctors willing to perform euthanasia with patients seeking an end to their lives, and which was responsible for the euthanasia of some 750 people in 2017. For Keizer, who was a philosopher before studying medicine, the advent of widespread access to euthanasia represents a new era. “For the first time in history,” he told me, “we have developed a space where people move towards death while we are touching them and they are in our midst. That’s completely different from killing yourself when your wife’s out shopping and the kids are at school and you hang yourself in the library – which is the most horrible way of doing it, because the wound never heals. The fact that you are a person means that you are linked to other people. And we have found a bearable way of severing that link, not by a natural death, but by a self-willed ending. It’s a very special thing.”

Related: ‘My death is not my own’: the limits of legal euthanasia

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