In a truly disturbing story, especially I think for those of us who believe in recovery, a Dutch man this summer chose to utilize Netherlands’ Euthanasia law rather than continuing to struggle with his alcoholism. Mark Langediijk, 41 years old, battled with alcohol for 8 years, according to his brother, and undertook 21 treatments. There is no information or allegations suggesting that he had advanced liver disease or other irreversible physiological issues secondary to the alcoholism that would effectively pronounce a death sentence. He and his brother drank wine the morning he ended his life with a physician-administered series of lethal injections.
I find this troubling on so many levels. Not to judge anyone else’s capacity for pain, I nevertheless can’t help but think of the countless people I know who “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” First line in the Big Book. I know people who went to more than 21 treatments…and ended up getting it. Certainly 8 years doesn’t seem like a terribly long time to many of us who struggled for decades, not enough time to justify throwing in the towel. I won’t say anything about the “celebratory” drink as one’s last act, joined by a family member.
The Dutch law is what bothers me the most, as employed in this case. To qualify for euthanasia, one must demonstrate “unbearable suffering” and “no prospect for improvement.” Recovering people, and recovery advocates and caregivers of all stripes simply know that there is always a prospect for improvement except in those cases involving, as mentioned above, physiological complications like advanced cirrhosis or Korsikoff’s. Even there, sometimes miracles of recovery occur. I know several people with long term sobriety who happily report that they are living under a physician’s death sentence rendered while they were yet drinking. Told to quickly get their affairs in order…fifteen or twenty years ago!!