Part of a podcast series

Better Off Dead

View all episodes in this series

#6 Once you start killing, you can't stop: the Netherlands, part 2

Listen to #6 Once you start killing, you can't stop: the Netherlands, part 2

For those who hold out the Netherlands as a textbook case of a ‘slippery slope’, they see a law originally designed to help the terminally ill – but that has now ‘slipped’ to include those who aren’t. But the Dutch law wasn’t written to deal only with certain diseases; guided by doctors themselves, it was deliberately created for people whose suffering is ‘unbearable and untreatable’.

Photo of Barbara Heetman

Barbara Heetman: 'My mother had to say totally from her own brain, heart, whatever, ‘I want this."' — Photo: Emily Sexton

This might include, for example, people with long-term, corrosive illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease. In some circumstances, it may even include people with Alzheimer’s.

But if the basis of your law is that only a mentally competent adult can request euthanasia, how do you deal with cases where that competence is unclear?

Barbara Heetman’s mother, Jeanne, applied to be euthanised before losing herself in the fog of Alzheimer’s. Her request was considered by the End of Life Clinic (Levenseindekliniek) that specialises in complex euthanasia requests.

The many steps Jeanne had to go through to prove she was mentally competent provide a powerful demonstration of the care with which Dutch euthanasia law is carried out – and an equally powerful rebuttal of claims of a slippery slope.

Photo of Gerrit Kimsma

Gerrit Kimsma: 'We are being transparent and I think we have a good system. We should be proud of it.' — Photo: Emily Sexton

'It is not something doctors like to do; they don’t. If you can get around euthanasia as a doctor, you will do it, because it costs you.'

Mariska Koster, a Dutch doctor, describing the impact of being involved in a euthanasia death

Please note: this podcast is not about suicide. If you are interested in increasing your understanding of suicide and how to support someone experiencing suicidal ideation, visit the Conversations Matter or beyondblue websites.

If you (or someone you know) require immediate assistance, contact one of the following 24/7 crisis support services: Lifeline (13 11 14), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), MensLine (1300 78 99 78), beyondblue (1300 22 4636), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or eheadspace (1800 650 890).

Hear more

Better Off Dead: interview with Willie Swildens

Willie Swildens-Rozendaal has chaired the Netherlands’ euthanasia review committees since their inception. Here, she takes you through how they operate, and the safeguards built into the system.

Know more

In this episode

  • Mariska Koster
  • Theo Boer
  • Steven Pleiter
  • Gerrit Kimsma
  • Eric van Wijlick
  • Barbara Heetman
  • Alex Schadenberg

Our theme music was composed by Zig Zag Lane for Zapruder's Other Films, and edited by Jon Tjhia. Music used in this episode includes 'Four' (Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm), 'In Utero' (subaske), 'B1' (Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm), 'Me' (Nils Frahm), 'For' (Nils Frahm), 'L$D' (ASAP Rocky), 'Slow Show' (The National), 'Hands, Be Still' (Ólafur Arnalds) and 'Forty-Eight Angels' (Paul Kelly).

Your stories

If you're suffering, or someone you love has died badly – in a hospital, in palliative care, in a nursing home, or at home – add your voice and tell your story here.

Further information

Better Off Dead is produced by Thought Fox and the Wheeler Centre.

Executive producers Andrew Denton and Michael Williams. Producer and researcher Bronwen Reid. For Better Off Dead, the Wheeler Centre team includes Director Michael Williams, Head of Programming Emily Sexton, Projects Producer Amita Kirpalani and Digital Manager Jon Tjhia. Editing, sound design and mix on this episode is by Martin Peralta. 

Thank you

Thanks to field producer Emily Sexton, and to Paul Kelly and Sony ATV for the use of his song ‘Forty Eight Angels’.

The series

Subscribe in iTunes, or your favourite podcast app. #betteroffdeadpod

Better Off Dead is produced by Thought Fox in partnership with the Wheeler Centre. It is written and created by Andrew Denton for Thought Fox.


Portrait of Andrew Denton

Andrew Denton

Andrew Denton is widely recognised as one of Australian media's genuinely creative forces.


All messages as part of this discussion and any opinions, advice, statements, or other information contained in any messages or transmitted by any third party are the responsibility of the author of that message and not the Wheeler Centre.

Better Off Dead

Andrew Denton investigates the stories, moral arguments and individuals woven into discussions about why good people are dying bad deaths in Australia.