"You're not going to dehydrate mom, are you?": Euthanasia, versterving, and good death in the Netherlands

Soc Sci Med. 2004 Mar;58(5):955-66. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.10.039.


In 1996, a debate erupted in the Netherlands about versterven: dying as a result of abstaining from eating and drinking. This discussion initially appeared to be one of the many side-shows to the wider Dutch euthanasia debate, but it continued to dominate the debate for the next few years, with newspaper headlines reporting "involuntary dehydration" in nursing homes. Part of the reason for this was the term itself. Introduced to refer to terminal dehydration, the word versterven had peculiar connotations and this, together with the way in which it was used, caused much confusion and controversy. Was versterven related to euthanasia? Did it denote dying naturally and peacefully or a horrible death imposed on helpless psychogeriatric patients? Was it (could it be) voluntary? Was the patient in control? Was it good death? This paper examines the discussion about, and the media representations of, versterven, focusing on its ambiguity and its relationship to good death.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death*
  • Dehydration / mortality
  • Dehydration / physiopathology
  • Dehydration / psychology*
  • Euthanasia / psychology*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Psychiatry
  • Humans
  • Netherlands
  • Nursing Homes
  • Patient Advocacy / psychology
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Semantics
  • Starvation / mortality
  • Starvation / physiopathology
  • Starvation / psychology*
  • Suicide
  • Terminal Care / psychology*