When family violence takes subtle forms: A narrative from a Dutch context (A response to CH Thesnaar)

  • Theo A. Boer Protestant Theological University The Netherlands


Domestic abuse is of all times and all places, and depending on contextual factors, it will take many different forms. Christo Thesnaar’s contribution elsewhere in this volume, about human dignity, domestic abuse, and domestic violence provides an impressive insight in the vicious circle of abuse from a South African context. In the case of Ellen Pakkies, this emanates into the utter tragic of a mother killing her son. After a long history of son-mother abuse, Ellen is visited by her son who once again displays his usual state of apathy. This time she decides to make him talk once and for all, so she puts a rope around his neck and tightens it. He swears at her, tries to grab a plank off the floor, but this time she is in charge. She will teach him a lesson. And before long, she has killed him. One of the reasons why the story is so heartbreaking is that it runs counter to everything we, as parents or as children, conceive to be the normal course of events in families. It will not be hard to find similar examples of domestic violence in other developed countries. Substance abuse is widespread in Europe, especially amongst citizens with a low socio-economic status. Still, the extent of violent crimes in South Africa and the gap between the socio-economic classes there justify the conclusion that the story presented by Thesnaar is much more typical for a South African context than it is for a European one. And there is another element in this account which strikes as un-European: the story told, the heuristics used, the analysis made, and the questions asked, illustrate the presence of a living tradition of highly qualified Protestant theology. In this contribution, we present a story of abuse taken from a radically different context which, on a closer look, is strikingly similar to the one recounted by Thesnaar. It is taken from the context of a euthanasia procedure, i.e., an assisted death of a patient by his doctor, at his request. We will start by shortly explaining the legal and medical-ethical framework surrounding the story. After the narrative is told we conclude by raising three points of discussion.