Second thoughts

The dilemmas surrounding euthanasia are nowhere in the world as openly under discussion as in the Netherlands. However, this does not make the issues any less emotionally charged. Backlight follows the negotiations between a doctor, a patient and the family in an Amsterdam nursing home.

In the nursing home for demented patients, none of them is capable of taking charge of their own lives. That has its consequences for their everyday life but also for the end of their lives. A central role is that of the nursing home doctor. He will have to consider the wishes of the patient, maybe stated long ago, and that of the family and assess the chances of survival.

More than twenty years ago, Bram De Gooijer (now 73) together with his wife wrote a euthanasia statement. “If I should ever arrive at a mental state in which there is for me no likely recovery to a tolerable state of life [...] I wish that euthanasia should be performed on me”, he wrote in 1985, in full possession of his faculties. The doctor in attendance would have to ask him for confirmation, but “if I should not be capable of giving it, I expect this statement to be regarded as my express wish.

By now Bram de Gooijer is a shadow of his former self and the first discussions about euthanasia have been begun. He unexpectedly develops a dangerous infection and indicates that he would like to be treated after all. His wife, though, claims that he doesn’t know what he is saying and that an end should be put to his suffering; that he has nothing left to live for. The doctor falls back on his professional code: in cases of doubt, take the side of the patient. But which patient? The one of twenty years ago, or the present one?

This documentary gives an accurate and harrowing picture of the negotiations about life and death between the doctor, the family and the patient.

Director: Eugene Paashuis

Research: Henneke Hagen

Producer: Doke Romeijn / Jos de Putter