Waiting to fall ill
When it was clear that Mathilde’s life was coming to its end, we went at once to see our doctor and reminded him of his earlier promise to administer euthanasia. I asked him how it was done. In the past, he told us, the patient drank a deadly potion, demonstrating for the last time the exercise of free will. But that is an uncertain method: Sometimes the patient throws up and survives in worse shape than before. More certain is the active method, where the doctor prepares two syringes. The first injection induces a deep coma; the second is a muscle relaxant that stops the heart. The whole process is over in a couple of minutes.
We still had a couple of weeks, perhaps a month or two, before things came to that. We informed our children, all adult now, our relatives and close friends, and then we settled down to wait.
There were three possible places for Mathilde’s death: the hospital, a local hospice and at home, in her own bed. She chose the last option and began her preparations, taking off her wedding ring of more than 50 years and issuing firm instructions: I should be present when she died; if euthanasia were used, I must be at her bedside and our children nearby, in the house but not in the bedroom.
And contrary to what is common here, she wanted her body to be taken away before nightfall, not lying in state for several days for friends and relatives to pay their last respects, a custom Mathilde and I both disliked.
In all these matters I accepted her wishes without argument, as I was wont to do, for I knew how much she disliked tiresome explanations and discussions.
All her life, Mathilde had slept soundly, falling asleep like a contented child, and until her very last days she continued to do so. I slept at her side, not so soundly, with instructions about what to do should she die in her sleep (a vain hope): Close her eyes, prop up her chin (”Otherwise, my mouth will fall open and I shall look silly”) and only then call the doctor.
Every morning, Mathilde would take her temperature. One day she ran a fever, and soon she became very ill indeed. First she contracted influenza but miraculously recovered; then there followed cystitis. She kept to her bed, and when another blood transfusion was due, she refused to go. She had given up. She no longer slept well and no longer wanted food or drink. The time had come to act.
The law lists four major conditions for euthanasia. It must be administered by a doctor; the patient must earnestly desire it, a resolve taken after due deliberation, and freely; there must be no prospect of recovery and, in the words of the law, the patient must be suffering unbearably. The attending physician must confirm that these conditions are met and write a report to this effect.