Els Borst: Dutch health minister whose greatest achievement was drafting her country’s law permitting euthanasia

‘She won people over with her openness, mildness and honesty,’ said the Dutch PM

Els Borst was a Dutch politician who as her country’s health minister drafted the nation’s landmark 2002 law permitting euthanasia. She was found dead in her garage in Bilthoven, a suburb of Utrecht; the police ruled out death by natural causes, and on Thursday said that they believed Borst had been murdered.

She had been seen in good spirits as recently as two days before a friend found her body, at a function for her centrist D66 political party. She had been among the most prominent women in Dutch politics in recent decades, a medical academic who served as health minister from 1994 to 2002, following a career that included chairing the Committee on Research in Medical Ethics. One of the first Dutchwomen to reach high political office, she was a minister of state, one of a few politicians who represent the country internationally.

The Netherlands’ euthanasia law, which codified long-standing practice, allows euthanasia when a terminally ill person requests it, is suffering unbearably and has no chance of recovery. Two doctors must agree. Borst defended the policy as humane, despite protests and fierce criticism from religious groups. In the past decade, the majority of Dutch voters who support euthanasia has grown. “I hope that other governments will find the courage to follow suit,” she said in 2001 after the lower house of Parliament approved the law.

The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, praised Borst as “a wise professional, with clear and considered standpoints, who stood her ground. She won people over with her openness, mildness and honesty.” Among her other achievements was the country’s law on organ donations, under which citizens are asked on turning 18 whether they want to become potential donors, and the 2001 law on foetal tissue, which legalised the scientific use of foetal tissue for medical research applications, if the parents agree and if the foetal tissue is the result of an abortion or miscarriage.

Last year, while trying to prevent a measles epidemic in the Dutch Calvinist bible belt, she wrote an opinion piece in the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad asking pastors and churchgoers to get vaccinated. “If everything is God’s will, then so is the invention of the vaccine, just like the seatbelt,” she said. µ TOBY STERLING

Else Eilers, politician: born Amsterdam 22 March 1932; married 1960 Jan Borst (died 1988; three children); died Utrecht c. 10 February 2014.

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