The aims of this present study were to explore the use and meaning of metaphors and images about aging in older people with a death wish and to elucidate what these metaphors and images tell us about their self-understanding and imagined feared future. Twenty-five in-depth interviews with Dutch older people with a death wish (median 82 years) were analyzed by making use of a phenomenological–hermeneutical metaphor analysis approach. We found 10 central metaphorical concepts: (a) struggle, (b) victimhood, (c) void, (d) stagnation, (e) captivity, (f) breakdown, (g) redundancy, (h) subhumanization, (i) burden, and (j) childhood. It appears that the group under research does have profound negative impressions of old age and about themselves being or becoming old. The discourse used reveals a strong sense of distance, disengagement, and nonbelonging associated with their wish to die. This study empirically supports the theory of stereotype embodiment.
In the Netherlands, physician-assisted dying has been legalized since 2002. Currently, an increasing number of Dutch citizens are in favour of a more relaxed interpretation of the law. Based on an ethos of self-determination and autonomy, there is a strong political lobby for the legal right to assisted dying when life is considered to be completed and no longer worth living. Building on previous empirical research, this article provides a critical ethical reflection upon this social issue. In the first part, we discuss the following question: what is the lived experience of older people who consider their lives to be completed and no longer worth living? We describe the reported loss of a sense of autonomy, dignity and independence in the lives of these older people. In the second part, from an ethics of care stance, we analyse the emerging social and political challenges behind the wish to die. Empirically grounded, the authors argue that the debate on 'completed life in old age' should primarily focus not on the question of whether or not to legitimize a self-directed death but on how to build an inclusive society where people may feel less unneeded, useless and marginalized.