Voluntary euthanasia debate heats up
Just over a month ago, Marc and Eddy Verbessem dressed up in new suits and shoes and headed out to be killed by lethal injection. But as their brother revealed this week to the media, the right to euthanasia was something they’d been fighting for for almost two years.
The 45-year-old Belgian twins had lived together their whole adult life and were deaf – they communicated within their family using a special sign language, but couldn’t communicate with the outside world. After finding out they would soon go blind as well, they wanted to end their lives before they completely lost their independence and stopped being able to see each other.
Voluntary euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002, but the twins were the first to be killed who weren’t terminally ill. In 2011 around 1,133 people died with the help of voluntary euthanasia in the country – mostly for terminal cancer.
And it’s caused an outpour of heated debate around the world.
Their deaths are something that anti-euthanasia lobby has long been worried about – if we’re not only allowing voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, then what’s next? Will we soon be allowing euthanasia for everyone who is blind or disabled?
And causing even more panic, Belgium last month also announced plans to change their law to allow the euthanasia of patients with Alzheimer’s and even children “if they are capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate” – something that a lot of people think is going way too far.
For those who are pro voluntary euthanasia, it’s generally considered a great thing that two men who were suffering and no longer wanted to live could exercise their right to end their life with minimal pain and suffering.
In the February issue of madison, which is out now, I wrote a story on the complicated and divisive issue of voluntary euthanasia.
I spoke to some amazing people and heard some truly powerful stories – in fact for the first time in my career I experienced what it was like to try to sound professional during a phone interview, when in reality I was sobbing silently at my desk.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, was trying hard to keep the story balanced, because I absolutely respect the differing opinions of everyone I spoke to, and the last thing I want is to try to make up anyone’s mind for them.
Generally, though, I’m fairly pro euthanasia, and would love it to be legalised by the time I’m suffering from disease or old age - when I've had enough, I don't want the law to stop me from dying. We control pretty much everything else in our lives, why shouldn't we also be able to control the amount of suffering we go through at the end?
However, I, thankfully, have never been close to death, so I’m aware my opinions are naïve – who can predict who they’ll react when staring death in the face. But I do think pain is subjective, and people should be able to have some say in how and when they go.
This isn’t an opinion my mum and I share – she’s one of the most intelligent people I know and I always respect her insight. But although we have a lot in common, she strongly feels there’s no safe way euthanasia can be legalised without vulnerable people being abused.
Last night our argument went something like this:
Mum: Everyone is outraged about these Belgian twins being allowed euthanasia.
Me: But why? I don’t understand why it’s anyone else’s business if they didn’t want to live anymore.
Mum: Now other blind people will feel pressured to commit euthanasia.
Me: They weren’t trying to make a statement about whether or not blind people should live, they were just doing what was right for them.
And repeat along those lines ad nauseum.
The thing is, neither of us is right or wrong, there is no definitive answer, and I enjoy being able to argue about the subject). I believe the only way forward is to talk about the issue openly and honestly. After all, death is one of the few things we all have in common - isn't it worth a conversation?
What do you think about euthanasia? Would you want a loved one (or even yourself) to be able to choose when they died? Do you think it's a step too far and could lead to vulnerable people being abused? Pick up the February issue of madison to read the full feature.
Fiona MacDonald is a features writer with madison, and she hopes she has a little control (or at least the illusion of it) at the end.