In a poignant yet controversial decision, Jan Faber, 70, and Els van Leeningen, 71, who had spent nearly five decades together, opted for a simultaneous death by euthanasia in the Netherlands. Their story has sparked renewed debate over the ethics and implications of assisted dying, a practice legal in the country under strict regulations.

Jan and Els, childhood sweethearts whose lives intertwined from kindergarten, met their end surrounded by loved ones, including their son who struggled to accept their choice. Jan, once a national youth team hockey player turned sports coach, and Els, a devoted primary school teacher, had shared a life centered around their mutual love for the sea and later, a cargo transportation business.

Their decision stemmed from Jan’s decades-long battle with excruciating back pain and Els’s progressive dementia diagnosis in 2022, which robbed her of speech and comprehension. Their son expressed his difficulty in coming to terms with their choice, recounting tearful moments and shared memories during their final days together.

Despite surgery and medical interventions, Jan’s pain persisted, leading them to explore assisted dying options through NVVE, a prominent “right to die” organization in the Netherlands. Els’s dementia added a layer of complexity, with doctors initially hesitant due to concerns over her capacity to consent.

After consulting with the Centre of Expertise on Euthanasia, known for its rigorous evaluations and in-home procedures, Jan and Els received approval. They spent their final moments surrounded by family, reminiscing, playing games, and walking on the beach—a farewell marked by music and cherished memories.

Their decision to die together on June 3 highlights a growing trend in the Netherlands, where euthanasia cases, including those involving couples, have seen a steady rise. In 2023 alone, 9,068 individuals opted for euthanasia, underscoring the polarizing nature of this practice within Dutch society.

Critics argue that euthanasia, despite stringent safeguards, raises ethical concerns about the sanctity of life and the potential for abuse or coercion, especially in cases involving vulnerable individuals such as those suffering from dementia. Each case undergoes rigorous scrutiny to ensure it meets legal and ethical standards, yet controversies persist.

The story of Jan and Els, who navigated life’s challenges together from childhood playmates to business partners and finally, to facing death side by side, has reignited discussions globally about the boundaries of personal autonomy, medical ethics, and the role of societal norms in end-of-life decisions.

As debates continue, their legacy serves as a poignant reminder of the profound personal choices individuals face in navigating terminal illness and chronic pain, prompting reflection on how different societies approach the delicate balance between compassion, dignity, and the sanctity of life.