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Right to Die: Contents | QUESTIONS

The Right to Die

The Story of Jose

Rob Niessink, the manager of a Dutch motor racing team, talks about his wife, Jose. Jose had serious diabetes since she was a baby, but she could control it by taking insulin injections and by being very careful about what she ate. Jose's final illness started late in 1992, a few months after she and Rob got married.
DIABETES is a disease in which there is too much sugar in someone's blood. 

INSULIN controls how much sugar is in someone's blood 

An INJECTION is a way of using a special needle to give somebody a drug.

'We were having dinner with some friends and Jose started to throw up. At first we thought it was food poisoning, so we went home. Jose got into bed and more or less never came out again.'

Jose vomited every time she ate or drank anything. She started to lose weight very fast.

She was taken into hospital six times. Finally, doctors discovered the cause of her problem: Jose's diabetes had damaged her stomach so that it did not contract and move the food through her body. Instead, the food stayed in her stomach and began to decay there. This caused Jose to vomit.

The doctors could find no cure for Jose. They could not even find a way to help her eat. Jose took part in the trial of a new drug; she tried many kinds of alternative treatment, but nothing was successful.

Doctors even put a special tube inside Jose, so that her food would not go into her stomach. Jose could eat only liquid food and she had to use a pump to feed herself. But this did not work, either. The food still came back into her stomach and she continued to vomit. She could not keep down even a little water.

Rob contacted every research hospital and every specialist. He called foreign embassies, hoping to find someone who could help Jose.

'Because you are desperate. You think: this can't happen. When she died she was thirty years old. On TV, you see incredible operations being performed, and you think: this can't be true. They put a new heart into people, a new kidney... and my wife's going to die!

'Jose tried to talk about euthanasia about six months before it was done. At first, I thought it was too early, that she shouldn't give up - that she should try to fight. That was easy for me to say. But she understood it was very hard for me and for her parents to accept the fact that she wanted to end her life.'

THROW UP (informal, v) (=VOMIT): when food comes back from your stomach and out of your mouth. 

DAMAGE (v): to harm something; to make it not work properly. 

DECAY (v): to become bad or rotten.

TREATMENT (n): a way of trying to make a sick person better.

TUBE (n): A small, thin pipe.

Finally, the specialist could offer no new treatments for Jose to try. He did not want to perform euthanasia, so he suggested that Jose took medicine for depression, although she wasn't truly depressed. Rob told her 'You must understand, there is no return from euthanasia. I'm not sure I can manage if I think we haven't tried every possible treatment'

So they discussed it with Jose's parents and Jose said 'For sure I don't believe in it, but I will try the medication'. Looking back, Rob thinks she took the medicine, not for herself, but to convince him and her parents that they really had tried everything. The medicine did not help her, it made her feel worse.

That was when their local doctor said that he would perform euthanasia for Jose.


CONVINCE (v): to make someone believe something.

'It may sound strange but it was a kind of relief for Jose. Before, she felt she had to prove how sick she really was and that she wasn't playing a game. But, at last, someone had offered to help her when the time came, and she was happy about that. So she said, "OK, I'll work up to it."

'We discussed it very often, almost all the time, and we talked about it with our family, too. We cried so much. We had a very open and honest relationship, and when she became sick we fought it like hell together. But in the last few months our relationship went sky-high emotionally. It was amazing.'

When the time came, Jose had made all her final decisions and planned her funeral service. The euthanasia was arranged for 8 pm on a Monday.

WORK UP TO SOMETHING: (v) (informal) to prepare for something gradually (little by little) . 

To fight LIKE HELL is to fight very hard. 

FUNERAL SERVICE (n): a ceremony that is held soon after someone dies. The body is usually buried in the ground or cremated (see below)

'Jose was amazingly cool. She was letting go of her life, letting go of the people and things that were dear to her.

'On Saturday, she had the last visit from her parents. On Sunday and Monday, the two of us were alone together. On Monday, she called a few people on the telephone, just to hear their voices. She put on the clothes she wanted to be cremated in, and did her hair. We watched U2 videos (her favourite group) and smoked a few cigarettes.

'I asked her, "How does it feel when you know you are going to die?" Because you look at the clock and think: my life ends in eight hours. Is it possible that a mind can accept such a thing? So I said to her, "Do you still fully agree that you want it to be done?" And she said, "It's very restful. It's very peaceful. I can't give you the answer, but it's a good feeling. I did my trip, I fought my fight."

'Then, around eight o'clock she said, "Well, I think I want a cup of coffee because it won't come back up now." She was on the couch with her coffee and cigarettes when the doctors came.'

Rob and Jose spent a few moments alone. 'What do you say? "Thanks a lot, have a good trip." But much more personally. I cried a lot. That's the strange thing, she comforted me. She said, "It's going to be alright".' Then they called the doctors. Rob held Jose's hand as the doctor gave her a drug to make her sleepy, and then gave her a second drug to end her life.

'Life continues but everybody has their own little voice and Jose is part of mine. She agreed to watch over me and I still think of her every day. She is there in very simple things like the furniture.'

Rob still believes that Jose's decision was good, and that her death came at the right time, before she became even more sick and suffered more.

To LET GO (v) is to stop holding something.

To CREMATE someone (v): to burn their body after they are dead.

Right to Die: Contents | QUESTIONS

The original version of this article entitled "A Careful Death" by Dinyar Godrej appeared in the April 1997 issue of the New Internationalist.
Copyright 1997, 1998: the New Internationalist