A completed life

In light of the Dutch "completed life" bill, Natasha Moore ponders the distinction made between a person's biological and biographical life.

Two weeks ago, a Dutch legislator submitted to parliament a proposed “completed life” bill. It would allow people over the age of 75 who feel they have come to the end of their life to request euthanasia.

Pia Dijkstra told the media: “The problem is getting bigger now that the difference between your biological and your biographical life is increasing thanks to advancing medical conditions.”

Support and opposition for the bill fell along predictable lines. The two Christian parties in parliament were against it. For some, it seemed incongruous to be pushing for older people in good health to have the right to choose their death while communities around the world are desperately striving (and often failing) to safeguard those in aged care from coronavirus.

But what stood out to me was that curious distinction: your biological life, your biographical life. In a few broad brushstrokes, it evokes some of the deepest questions about human life. Like these three:

  1. Do I have a story? If life is a lucky (or unlucky) accident, if I am my flesh and my brain chemistry, if there is no grand design or designer … can my biology and my biography be separated? Yet we are story-making creatures, through and through.
  2. Am I the author of my story? Can I determine which way it goes, when it’s done? Our knowledge and control are so limited. Is there not always room for the surprise twist, even (or especially) at the eleventh hour?
  3. Am I even the protagonist of my own story? To which Disney, for example, might exuberantly trill “of course!” and a believer in “love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” would say: well, no – and what a relief that can be.