“Love Them to Death”: Dutch and Italian Experiences of (Assisted) Suicide, and the Urgent Need for Human Solidarity

October 1, 2020
Edition: Fall 2020
Volume: 35
Issue: 2
Article: 3

Table of Contents


Legal cases involving “assisted suicide” and euthanasia have dramatically increased over the past decades. European news is filled with hard cases involving people whose experiences of pain and suffering are used to advance the cause of further decriminalization. Another kind of case, however, is gaining public attention and revealing the fallacious narrative of death as a human right. These are cases of people who live where such practices are already legal, but who may have preferred life over death were the practice criminally sanctioned. A suicide case from the Netherlands will be the starting point for a broader reflection on the existence of a “right to die,” and on the soundness of an alternative “duty to care.”

Creating a parallel between a Dutch case of “death by starvation” and a recent Italian constitutional judgment (which led to a partial decriminalization—or exemption from punishment— of some forms of assisted suicide) the author aims to show that:

  1. there is inevitably an international dimension to the problem,
  2. laws shape human behavior, and they do so internationally. What once was prohibited, and later decriminalized, has gradually become tolerated, welcomed, and is now entertained as a human right. A right to die, however, contradicts the very basis of our common living.


After presenting the facts of a suicide recently committed by a Dutch teenager, the author will focus on Netherland’s norms regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia, and the specific medical guidelines that apply to the so-called “choice to stop eating and drinking so as to hasten the end of life (SED).” In the third chapter, the author will underscore the importance of intent, and address the radical difference that exists between an act of suicide and the choice to refuse treatment. The author then analyzes the relevant criminal provisions in Italian legislation, which prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide, with a particular focus on the recent decision n. 242/2019, issued by the Italian Constitutional Court. This judgment relaxed the existing ban on assisted suicide and thereby compromised Italy’s absolute protection of life by adopting an overly broad understanding of individual autonomy. In the final chapter, the author defends the idea that only where autonomy is combined with solidarity individual liberties are justly ordered, and human rights effectively protected. This solidarity, implicit in norms such as “Bad Samaritan Laws” that impose legal duties to rescue, is not mere altruism, but a form of self-love, as it creates the beneficial conditions of harmony and friendliness among citizens.

Online Article Coming Soon.

Click here to download Article PDF

About the Authors

Affiliation: Associate Research Scholar, James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University, Department of Politics. Ph.D., University of Padua, School of Law, and University of Innsbruck, Austria, 2015. Adapted from a presentation delivered at the University of Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s 2019 Fall Conference, ‘I Have Called You Friends,’ Nov. 9, 2019.