Lex Bohlmeijer in conversation with Els van Wijngaarden about her research and the public debate on ‘complete life’: podcast July 2017



In May 2017, my thesis was awarded with the Research Prize of the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation for which I feel deeply honored.

The report by the Selection Committee: 
“This dissertation examines a highly explosive theme, the phenomenon of a ‘fulfilled life’, in a balanced, lucid and sensitive way. The author researches the scientific context within which this phenomenon is written about. Drawing on interviews, she explores the factors that influence older people who wish to end their lives. She complements this empirical research in an interesting and thorough manner with an overview of existing provisions on the one hand, and external criticism on the other. In her research the author links various academic disciplines and fields of research, such as phenomenology, the psychology of medical studies and ethics. Her combination of individual histories, social structure and moral reflection makes this a finely balanced study. Moreover, this is the world’s first study to put forward empirical arguments in the discussion on rational suicide, which to date has largely been a theoretical debate. The jury was impressed by the qualitative analysis and hopes that the work will prove exemplary in future debates on this important social issue.”


Based on my research into the phenomenon of completed life, I have written a Dutch book for the general public in which the personal stories of older people play a prominent role.

Some (Dutch) comments on the book  ‘Voltooid Leven, over leven en willen sterven’:

2405_VoltooidLeven_Voorplat.indd‘Met haar zorgvuldige analyse van de beweegredenen weet Van Wijngaarden de lezer voor een al te zwart-wit oordeel te behoeden.’ – Volkskrant ****

‘De kracht van het boek van Van Wijngaarden is dat ze niet óver, maar mét de mensen zelf praat.’ – Nederlands Dagblad

‘Een intelligent, aandachtig boek dat leest als een roman.’ – Vonne van der Meer, schrijver

‘Het onderzoek van Van Wijngaarden is een eye-opener. Het is zo opvallend omdat ze de term “voltooid leven” van zijn bedrieglijk rustgevende aura ontdoet.’ – Bert Keizer, verpleeghuisarts, filosoof, publicist

‘Iedereen met een mening over #voltooidleven of de Pil van Drion moet dit boek lezen. Het is echt niet zo simpel mensen.’ – Gert van Dijk, ethicus KNMG



At 22 November 2016, I defended my thesis Ready to give up on life. A study into the lived experience of older people who consider their lives to be completed and no longerworth living. Please find the English summary here.

Since 1991, there is an on-going public debate in the Netherlands, questioning whether elderly people with a wish to die should have legal options to ask for assisted dying. In October 2016, the Dutch Minister of Health presented a proposed law that would allow people who are not suffering from a medical condition to seek assisted suicide if they feel they have “completed life.” Proponents of the law counter that limiting assisted death to patients with terminal illnesses is no longer enough, and that older people should have the right to end their lives with dignity, and when they so choose.

My PHD-study is the first in-depth study world wide, aiming to develop a thorough understanding of the phenomenon ‘life is completed and no longer worth living’, as it is lived and experienced by elderly people who do not suffer from a life-threatening disease or a psychiatric disorder. It involves several phenomenological and ethical reflections on this phenomenon. This study was funded by The Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).