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Radio review: Crossing Continents, and Out of Line

17 August 2018


“I BEG you, make stories about people who lived.” The man from the Dutch equivalent of the Samaritans — 113 Suicide Prevention — was clearly getting frustrated with having to answer so many questions about Aurelia Brouwers. But when a young, female euthanasia patient gets so much coverage, then there is no question who is controlling the debate. That Brouwers was granted legal suicide because of her acute mental illness makes the case that much more explosive.

In Crossing Continents (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), Linda Pressly investigated this notorious case, which culminated, in January, in Brouwers’s death. Euthanasia is allowed in the Netherlands if a doctor regards the patient’s suffering as unbearable and considers that there is no reasonable alternative method of alleviating that pain.

In the case of mental illness, these criteria are considerably more delicate to assess, not least because the death-wish itself might be deemed to be a symptom of — even an intrinsic characteristic of — the disease itself. Suffice it to say that those who object to euthanasia will have found in this documentary much grim vindication: we heard several apologists for Brouwers’s death argue that mental illness was indeed in some cases incurable and, thus, should be treated like a terminal cancer.

The strongest voice of objection came from the gentleman from 113 Suicide Prevention quoted above, who fears that the media attention turned on the sad case of Brouwers will overshadow a less dramatic story: that lots of sufferers get through the suicidal stage of their illness. We heard from Monique, who even got as far as to fill in the forms to petition for euthanasia, and is relieved that she never sent them off.

What is clear is that Brouwers positioned herself in the centre of a drama that continues to be played out in Dutch public life. One of her friends talked dismissively of how religious groups campaigned to persuade her to live, but that is only to be expected when the entire passion and death is played out on social media. One must ardently pray that she has found rest; but there is certainly no rest for those who are left behind.

Psychological delusions of a gentler kind were the subject of Teresa Monachino’s entertaining documentary Out of Line (Radio 4, Thursday of last week). Do stripes make you look fat? Vertical ones, yes; but you’re safe with horizontal ones, at least so far as size goes. The trouble with horizontal stripes is that they make you look at best sinister and at worst evil. Prisoners wear them, as does Dennis the Menace.

All of this, of course, leads to an attempt by the inhabitants of Leeds to break the world record for a gathering of Wallys (from Where’s Wally?). As it transpired, there were little over 400 inhabitants, not nearly enough to beat the Wally-crazed populace of Nagasaki in Japan, who, last October, set the record at 4626.

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