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Of Euthanasia and Mandatory Chapel:
Dr. Kennedy reports on a busy year

Last year's Annual Report included an article titled "The 'Bespreekbarheid' of End of Life," in which Dr. James Kennedy discussed his research on the history of euthanasia in the Netherlands. Here he reports on his completed book and on his exploration of a new topic.

Dutch euthanasia policy and a religious history of Hope College - these two rather different historical subjects have taken up the bulk of my research in the last twelve months, and I have never been busier than in the last year.

In summary, I think the Dutch belief that most topics are "discussable" helps to explain certain paradoxes of Dutch euthanasia policy. It shows how the Dutch offer a solution to the euthanasia issue that looks very authoritarian to some outsiders (the end decision for euthanasia rests with the doctor) and very libertarian to others (nowhere is the right to die more openly recognized than in the Netherlands). Or, from a somewhat different angle, it helps explain why Dutch policy can on the one hand seem so "progressive" (if people want to die, we should help them) and on the other rather "conservative" (we must make sure this practice does not get out of control). These contrasts tend to melt together in a culture where the belief that "talking through everything" can solve all problems and all substantive differences in opinion. Additionally, it also helps explain why many Dutch proponents of euthanasia feel comfortable with standards of careful practice for euthanasia (such as the "unbearable" and "hopeless" suffering of the patient) that seem so open to interpretation as to be vague at best, and dangerous at worst. Rather than relying on iron rules or zealous consistency, many proponents of euthanasia have believed that "openness" and a thorough discussion of what these regulations mean are the best way to prevent abuse. In some ways the "discussability" of euthanasia has served as the substitute for a transparent, sharply-defined and coherent policy, in favor of a more flexible one, with open lines of communication between all of the relevant parties.
From Een weloverwogen dood (A Well-Considered Death) by James C. Kennedy, to be published in 2002 by Bert Bakker in the Netherlands.

In January 2002 my book Een weloverwogen dood (A Well-Considered Death) will appear with the Amsterdam trade publisher Bert Bakker. My manuscript was completed (and translated by my wife Simone) just before the Dutch "legalized" euthanasia in April 2001, but production processes and market considerations set the date of publication back. In one sense, the April 2001 date does not matter much, since I go no further than the mid-1980s in my book. I argue that the major contours of Dutch euthanasia policy were set back in 1985, and that changes since then have been mostly variations on themes worked out in the 1970s and 1980s. At the same time, however, I do think that Dutch society has changed significantly since the mid-1980s, and I want the Dutch to consider whether current Dutch euthanasia policy - drawn so much from the ideas and values of the 1970s that I analyze in my book - was better suited to the Netherlands of yesteryear than it is to the country of today. I hope my book can be used as a retrospective on where the Dutch have been in regard to their unique euthanasia policy.

This past spring and summer has also been taken up with making use of the Joint Archives of Holland in researching a history of Christianity at Hope College. This history focuses exclusively on the terms of the first three postwar presidents (Irwin Lubbers, Calvin VanderWerf, and Gordon Van Wylen), a period (1945-1987) which witnessed great changes at Hope - not least in terms of the college's religious character. This history of the college, with its heated discussions of mandatory chapel and the college's hiring policies, is most obviously of interest to people at Hope. In fact, the article that will come out of the research will be distributed to all Hope faculty who wish to discuss Hope's past, and will later be disseminated to all first-year faculty as an orientation piece to Hope and its religious identity. But this history is also of wider interest. Unlike almost any other Protestant college, Hope does not easily fit into either a "mainline" or "evangelical/orthodox" type, and its history, with its unusual tides and fluxes, helps explain why.