Sandra Hoyn studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences Hamburg, Germany, graduating in 2005. She started working as a freelance photojournalist for magazines, NGOs and on her personal projects, concentrating on social, environmental and human rights issues. Since 2007 she has been represented by laif, a photo and reporting agency. In 2017 she received the first prize of the Sony World Photography Awards in the "Daily Life" category and POYi s of the Year International's third place in the "Portrait" category. In 2016 she received the Magnum Photography Award in the "Photo Journalism" category, and in 2015 the World Press Photo third prize in the "Nature singles" category.
Aurelia is 29 and will die soon. Because it is her decision. I accompanied Aurelia during her last weeks until her death. In the Netherlands, where Aurelia lives, euthanasia is allowed since 2002. Every year several thousand people end their lives there, legally assisted by a doctor, because their pain is unbearable and there is no chance for recovery. When does suffering grow too strong to live on? Aurelia suffers from serious mental illnesses. She has the borderline syndrome, depressions, various anxiety disorders, eating disorders. She has gone through all possible treatments and therapies. She says, "I would love to live, but I want to end my suffering! The only way to reach this point for me is to die." Aurelia says she does not wish to encourage people to kill themselves. She wants those really determined to end their lives because of suffering get the chance to die by their own volition and assisted by a doctor. Not alone, not after a self-mixed overdose, not after a jump in front of a train or from a high building. But at home, in their own beds and surrounded by their loved ones and in dignity.
Although euthanasia is legal for mentally ill people in the Netherlands, doctors rarely allow it. In the Levenseindekliniek (end-of-life clinic) 457 out of the 503 applications of mentally ill people were denied in 2017. On the 31th of December 2017, Aurelia received a phone call from the clinic: she will be allowed to die in 26 days. The doctors of the euthanasia clinic have certified that Aurelias fight for healing is without any prospect of success. Is this a scandal? Or is it time to talk about the matter that also mentally ill people can reach the point where their suffering is unbearable, and it should more ethical to help them ending their lives in order to relieve their pain and suffering?
"In my head is a monster which sticks me with hundred knives. I fight 24 hours a day not to hurt myself. Not to damage myself. The only thing I think about is let this be over!"
Although legal euthanasia is possible for psychiatric patients in the Netherlands, it is difficult. Through social media and her own blog Aurelia fights for euthanasia for psychiatric patients whose suffering is unbearable and hopeless. She considers this to be her ultimate lifes work in her final weeks of being alive.
"I am the queen of the pills", Aurelia laughs. She has to take around 22 tablets each day, but she rarely takes all. She collects some for the case she wants to commit suicide.
"Meanwhile I feel less physical pain afterwards, if I hurt myself. So I hurt me more and more." Aurelia lies on the kitchen floor after she sprayed deodorant in her eyes. "What you see is not Aurelia anymore. This is not me. This is just my illness!"
"I want to die since 8 years now. January 26 will be my day! #finallypeace" she wrote on her blog some days before her death.
At night when Aurelia cant sleep she works in her hobbyroom.
Aurelia lies laughing on her bed. "I am able to love and have fun sometimes, but I am not able to live without pain. I still enjoy music, be together with friends, enjoy my hobbies. People think if I can still enjoy that I can also live if I just want. But that is not true. I dont live, I survive!"
"I dont want to trigger people with my story. But I want to break the taboo about it and I want people try to understand. Mentally healthy people have no idea about the pain in my soul. My illness is not different than a physical illness. I am over-treated, there is no hope anymore. I want to end my suffering, I just want to die in dignity."
Aurelia is sitting in the crematory. She wants to see it from the perspective of her guests. This is part of her process to realize that her death is coming closer.
Aurelia is laughing. It is part of her illness that her mood suddenly changes.
Aurelia reads her messages on the computer. I wrote on facebook that I am going soon to my dead mother. Someone responded: "You do not go to your mother, you go to hell!" I think: why do you say such nasty things to me if you are so religious? I am evangelical. I know that god loves me. God is love. I dont believe in hell after death, it doesnt exist. I believe that God will receive me with open arms. Hell? That is what earth means to me."
"At night I go often somewhere to clear my mind, but I get easily lost. When I am in a dissociative state I am confused and I dont know my way back. Then I lie down to sleep somewhere until people call the police to bring me home."
Aurelia lies with stuffed animal Dido on the couch. She has sleeping problems. Sometimes she stays awake for more then two days. She gets nightmares when she sleeps. Usually she hurts herself during the night.
Aurelia reads a message on facebook from someone she doesnt know. She smiles because he wants to light a candle and change his profile picture on facebook for her on the day she dies.
Aurelia lies with her stuffed animal Dido in the coffin. Saying goodbye was the hardest part for her before her death: "You see each other for the last time and what do you have to say? Bye? Or black humor: I will haunt you?"