Else "Els" Borst-Eilers (22 March 1932 – 8 February 2014) was a Dutch politician of the Democrats 66 (D66) party. She served as Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport from 22 August 1994 until 22 July 2002 in the Cabinets Kok I and II and Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 3 August 1998 until 22 July 2002 in the Second purple cabinet. For the Dutch general election of 1998 she was the lijsttrekker (top candidate) and served as Party leader from 15 February 1998 until 14 May 1998. The Democrats 66 lost ten seats and Borst became the Parliamentary leader of the Democrats 66 in House of Representatives, serving from 7 May 1998 until 14 May 1998 and a Member of the House of Representatives from 19 May 1998 until 3 August 1998.
Education and Academic Career
Borst attended the Barlaeus Gymnasium of Amsterdam graduating in 1950. The same school was attended by People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) leader Frits Bolkestein, who was one class below her. Between 1950 and 1958, she followed a medical education at the University of Amsterdam where she obtained her medical degree in 1958. Subsequently, Borst worked as a resident physician at the hospital Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis in Amsterdam where she specialized in pediatric medicine and immunohaematology. In 1965 Borst started writing her doctoral thesis, while working as a medical scientist at Utrecht University, researching immunohaematology. In 1972 she received her Ph.D. degree at the University of Amsterdam following research on the development and prevention of rhesus immunisation. In 1969 she was the head of the Bloodbank of the University Hospital of Utrecht, and in 1976 she became medical director of that hospital. In 1986 she left this position to become vice-chair of the Health Council, which she combined from 1992 with a position as professor in "evaluating medical actions" at the University of Amsterdam. In the Health Council she chaired the committees on immunisation, genetics and medical ethics. Borst held several other positions in the medical world: she was chairperson of the College for Blood Transfusion as well as of the Committee on Research in Medical Ethics. In 1968 she joined D66, and was active as a rank-and-file member. In 1976 for instance, when D66 had lost nearly all its members and performed particularly bad in the polls, Borst was a volunteer in the promotion and revitalization campaign of the party, led by Jan Terlouw.
In 1994 Borst became minister of Health for D66 in the First cabinet of Wim Kok. As a minister, Borst was known for two things, for introducing progressive legislation in medical ethics and for her attempts to reform the medical system to better cope with the aging population.
In 2001 she implemented a law legalizing Euthanasia in the Netherlands under certain extraordinary conditions, and only when extensive protocols had been followed by the physician, and subject to an obligation of full reporting to a governing body. The law (Dutch: de Wet Toetsing levensbeëindiging en hulp bij zelfdoding, law on the legal review of euthanasia and assisted suicide) is considered her most important contribution in politics.
In other medical ethical question, she also showed her progressive standpoints:
- In 1994 she strengthened the rights of patients, giving them the right to information and privacy, and the explicit right to refuse treatment.
- In 1996 she implemented the law on organ donation. As a result of the law, all Dutch citizens are asked when whether they wanted to become organ donor when they are 18 years old.
- In 2001 the law on foetal tissue was passed, which legalized the scientific use of foetal tissue for medical research applications, if the parents agreed and if the foetal tissue was the result of an abortion or miscarriage.
- In 2002 she prevented xenotransplantation.
- She also defended the Dutch system of soft drugs.
She faced political problems preparing the Dutch medical system for the aging of the population. An important part of her reforms of the medical system was to integrate the health insurance system (which had a public and private part), achieving that all citizens would pay the same amount for the same coverage. Although her ministry's budget was drastically increased during this period, she still had to limit the budgets of the hospitals. This led to a problem of long waiting lists for simple medical procedures. From both the political left and the political right she was criticized for what was seen as her mismanagement of the medical system. Pim Fortuyn put it dramatically when in an Elsevier column he wrote that "Borst is worse than bin Laden", because she had caused more deaths than the 11 September 2001 attacks.
In the 1998 elections Borst succeeded Hans van Mierlo as lijsttrekker for D66. She was parachuted by the party's leadership in a press-conference where Van Mierlo announced her candidacy with the words: "It's a girl, and we call her Els." Words which were similar to those that parents use to announce the birth of their new born child. Although Borst lost the elections -her party lost ten of its twenty-four seats- she remained the minister of Health, and became deputy-prime-minister. During the formation talks Borst served as fractievoorzitter of D66 for one week (7–14 May 1998), and as formateur.
After the parliamentary inquiry in the El Al Flight 1862 (Bijlmer Plane Crash), Borst faced a motion of no confidence in June 1999. The inquiry committee had concluded that Borst and her ministry of Health did not react well to the health problems of survivors of the disaster. The motion was rejected by parliament after an eighteen-hour-long debate.
After a 2001 interview in the NRC Handelsblad Borst also faced another motion of no-confidence. In the interview she had said "It has been done" (Dutch: "Het is volbracht") on completing the law on euthanasia. Which according to the Bible are the last words of Jesus, on the cross. The orthodox Protestant parties ChristianUnion (ChristenUnie or CU) and Reformed Political Party (SGP), who had opposed euthanasia were insulted by this. Although the motion was not carried by parliament, Borst made her apologies for those words to parliament.
Life after Politics
Before the 2002 elections she retired from political life. On 8 February 2003 she became honorary member of D66. Borst held many positions in public life, serving as member of the Remembrance of the Dead and Liberation Day Committees. She also held many positions in the medical world, she was chairperson of the board of NIVEL (National Institute for Scientific Research in Medicine), chairperson of the Federation of Dutch Cancer Patients Organizations and chair of the advisory board of the Brain Foundation of the Netherlands.
Borst was found dead on the evening of 8 February 2014 in the garage at her home in Bilthoven by a close friend. The eighty-one year old former politician was in good health after recovering from breast cancer a few years before. Borst who had attended a party congress of the Democrats 66 in Amsterdam two days before was reported to be visibly spirituous and left the party congress on her own. Media reported that police said Borst was found under 'suspicious circumstances', the police later said investigations were normal in cases where the cause of death was not immediately clear. Section conducted by the Netherlands Forensic Institute found that her death was caused by injuries, but no conclusive statement could yet be given on the way these were inflicted. On 13 February police issued a release and stated that Borst died of a "unnatural death" and that she died between 8 and 10 February. On 11 March Dutch police released a statement that concluded that Borst died on 8 February, hours after attending the party congress and that she was a victim of either murder or manslaughter.
- Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion (1989)
- Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau (10 December 2002)
- On 21 December 2012, she was granted the honorary title of Minister of State.
- (Dutch) Aletta Jacobsprijs voor Els Borst, NOS, 8 March 2012
- (Dutch) Oud-minister Els Borst overleden, NOS, 10 February 2014
- (Dutch) Doodsoorzaak Borst nog onbekend, NOS, 11 February 2014
- (English) Police investigate death of former health minister Els Borst, DutchNews, 11 February 2014
- (English) Dutch ex-minister Els Borst found dead, The Guardian, 11 February 2014
- (Dutch) Geen duidelijkheid na sectie Borst, NOS, 12 February 2014
- (Dutch) Sectie biedt geen duidelijkheid over oorzaak dood Els Borst. Nu.nl, 12 February 2014
- (Dutch) Dood Borst waarschijnlijk misdrijf, NOS, 13 February 2014
- (English) Dutch Police: Minister's Death Likely a Crime, ABC News, February 13, 2014
- (English) Dutch ex-minister Els Borst's death 'a crime' - police, BBC News, 13 February 2014
- (Dutch) Els Borst al op 8 februari gedood, NOS, 11 March 2014
- (Dutch) Els Borst lag al twee dagen dood in garage, Nu.nl, 11 March 2014
- (Dutch) Els Borst lag twee dagen dood in garage, Telegraaf, 11 March 2014
- (Dutch) Els Borst lag twee dagen dood in garage, RTL Nieuws, 11 March 2014
- (Dutch) Benoeming ministers van Staat, Rijksoverheid, 21 December 2012
- (Dutch) Dr. E. (Els) Borst-Eilers Parlement & Politiek
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Els Borst.|
|Party political offices|
Hans van Mierlo
|Leader of the Democrats 66
Thom de Graaf
Thom de Graaf
|Parliamentary leader of the Democrats 66
in the House of Representatives of the Netherlands
Thom de Graaf
|Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Netherlands
Hans van Mierlo
|Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands
With: Annemarie Jorritsma