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Until death do us part: Married Dutch couple, 70 and 71, who spent their lives together after meeting in kindergarten, are killed by lethal injection in double euthanasia

A devoted couple who spent their entire lives together after meeting as small children have died side by side, the latest case of double euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Jan Faber and Els van Leeningen, aged 70 and 71, were married for almost fifty years before they simultaneously ended their lives by lethal injection in early June.

In the moments before their deaths, the couple was surrounded by friends and family, including their son, who found his parents’ decision to end their lives difficult to take.

“You don’t want to let your parents die,” Jan said about his reaction. ‘So tears have been shed – our son said, “Better times are coming, better weather is coming” – but not for me.’ Els said before her planned death: ‘There is no other solution.’

Jan, who worked as a freight skipper, had suffered from severe back pain for more than 20 years. His wife was diagnosed with dementia in 2022. This form of dementia was so severe that she had difficulty forming sentences.

Jan Faber and Els van Leeningen were married for almost five decades before they simultaneously ended their lives in early June.  The couple is depicted a few days before their death

Jan Faber and Els van Leeningen were married for almost five decades before they simultaneously ended their lives in early June. The couple is depicted a few days before their death

“I’ve lived my life, I don’t want any more pain,” Jan told the newspaper BBCThe life we’ve lived, we’re growing old [for it]. We believe it should be stopped.”

The couple enjoyed a lifelong partnership, first meeting in kindergarten. Jan played hockey for the Dutch youth team before training to become a sports coach, while Els became a primary school teacher.

They shared a passion for the sea and spent much of their lives on boats.

This shared interest turned into a career, with the couple purchasing a freight boat and starting a freight transport company.

They had a son, who went to boarding school during the week they lived on the water, and he took him on sailing holidays.

After more than a decade of heavy lifting and manual labor, Jans’ back pain became severe and the couple moved back to land in a caravan.

An operation in 2003 did little to relieve his pain and he was forced to stop working.

While Els was still working as a teacher, Jans’ physical limitations and the lower quality of life they resulted in encouraged the couple to think about assisted dying, and they joined the NVVE – Dutch organization ‘right to die’. die’.

Els retired in 2018 and began to show the first signs of dementia, a disease from which her father had suffered and died.

She was officially diagnosed in November 2022 and the disease continued to worsen, to the point where she had difficulty forming sentences.

The couple’s GP – like many doctors in the Netherlands – felt uncomfortable accepting their plea for euthanasia because of Els’ dementia, which can create uncertainty about a patient’s ability to give consent.

The couple turned to the Euthanasia Expertise Centre, which provides advice on assisted dying and has a mobile clinic that carries out procedures at patients’ homes.

The couple turned to the Euthanasia Expertise Centre, which provides advice on euthanasia and has a mobile clinic that carries out procedures in patients' homes.

The couple turned to the Euthanasia Expertise Center, which provides advice on euthanasia and has a mobile clinic that performs procedures at patients’ homes.

Before their appointment, Els and Jan spent the day with their son and grandchildren.

They played games, chatted and Els went for a walk on the beach with her son.

“I remember we were having dinner that night, and I had tears in my eyes watching us all have that last dinner together,” he said.

On the day they were to die, Els and Jan spent two last hours with their loved ones.

They used the time to share their memories and listen to music – Idlewild by Travis for Els, The Beatles’ Now and Then for Jan.

Then, their son said, the doctors came in and “everything happened quickly,” with the medics following their procedures and then it happened in “just a matter of minutes.”

The couple were simultaneously administered lethal injections by two doctors and died together on June 3.

In 2023, 9,068 people died in the Netherlands through euthanasia – 348 more than in 2022.

Of the 8,720 people who died by euthanasia in the Netherlands in 2022, 29 were couples. In 2021, 16 couples died this way. In 2018 there were nine.

Elke Swart, spokesperson for the Euthanasia Expertise Centre, told the Guardian that a request for joint euthanasia from a couple is still assessed against strict individual requirements, and not against the requirements of jointness.

In a similar case to Jan and Els’, reported earlier this year, a couple who had been together for 50 years decided they wanted to die at the same time.

Monique Wessels, 74, suffered from dementia, while her partner Loes Wasmoeth, 88, from a muscular disease.

In February, attention for ‘duo euthanasia’ came into the news when it was announced that former Prime Minister Dries Van Agt had died in this manner, together with his wife Eugenie, to whom he had been married for 70 years.

Former Prime Minister Dries van Agt (left) died by euthanasia, 'hand in hand' with his beloved wife Eugenie (right). They were both 93

Former Prime Minister Dries van Agt (left) died by euthanasia, ‘hand in hand’ with his beloved wife Eugenie (right). They were both 93

Both had been suffering from poor health for some time after Van Agt suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2019. Given their old age and declining physical condition, they thought it better to die together.

“The way the Van Agts died is a wonderful example of dying with dignity while still retaining control,” the pro-euthanasia group NVVE said at the time.

The Netherlands and Belgium were the first European countries to legalize euthanasia – voluntary death with the assistance of a doctor – in 2002.

The procedure is strictly regulated in the Netherlands. A doctor and an independent expert must judge that a patient is suffering unbearably without any hope of improvement.

It also requires that a decision to die is carefully considered, of the patient’s free will, and that there is no other ‘realistic option’.

In the event that a couple chooses euthanasia, these conditions must be met for both patients, assessed by two different doctors. It is therefore extremely rare.

For confidential support you can call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details

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