Ons mankeert niets
A restrained and subtle novel about the right to decide life and death and the attendant role of the medical profession
Euthanasia is the heated subject of a current discussion in the Dutch parliament, the courts and the media. Under which conditions should it be allowed? Is it already being tacitly allowed? Where should we draw the line? In this engaging novel, the renowned writer and essayist Willem Jan Otten makes his contribution to the debate. He believes that one cannot be too cautious in deciding about euthanasia. In his eyes, death and the awe and mystery surrounding it are taboos that need to be upheld, even in the permissive Netherlands.
‘Fiction is more than an intellectual discussion. It is the device with which I can clearly show my adversaries the truths and emotions that are important to me,’ declared Otten recently. This is exactly what he has now done in Ons mankeert niets.
Justus Loef, the novel’s narrator, is a young GP who, after being a party to his colleague’s suicide plans, goes on to take over his practice. The novel is comprised entirely of a letter Justus writes to the Medical Council – or is it to some Higher Authority? Otten sketches daily medical routine and the division of roles between patient and doctor with truth and subtlety. His research as an observer in a general practice has obviously borne fruit.
It is not simple to say who bears the guilt for the suicide, or for neglecting to oppose it while it was still in the planning stages. The doctor’s business interests and private concerns are entangled. Justus refers to the sentiment expressed in Conrad’s Lord Jim: ‘We only exist in so far as we hang together.’ The death of someone close disrupts Conrad’s ‘hanging together’. Despite dealing with such difficult moral questions, Ons mankeert niets is, above all else, a sensitive, suspenseful novel. Otten is a writer who takes his profession seriously and he deserves high praise for this book.