We Need More Discussion On Euthanasia


You may have seen in the news last week the story of the 45-year-old Belgian twins who decided to end their lives via voluntary euthanasia. Mark and Eddy Verbessem had been deaf since birth and upon hearing they would soon go blind decided they could not live without being able to see each other.  

The Belgian twins

The Belgian twins

Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002, but what makes the story of these twins different is that they were not terminally ill. Unlike most people who have ended their life via euthanasia, Mark and Eddy were not considered to be in unbearable physical pain and were not suffering from an illness that would have resulted in death. What the brothers found unbearable was the thought of being rendered almost completely unable to communicate and not being able to see each other. With the support of a local doctor it took them two years to find a hospital to grant their wish.

Understandably, this story has reignited debate surrounding euthanasia. Belgium is only the second country to legalise euthanasia. Currently voluntary euthanasia is illegal in all Australian states, with the Northern Territory being the only state to successfully legalise euthanasia before it was overturned nine months later.

It’s not surprising that bills supporting euthanasia often fail. There are many grey areas when considering the right of someone to end their own life. The biggest concern is where the line will be drawn. Australian woman Susan Potts made headlines last year after Channel 7’s Sunday Night program aired an interview with Susan that was filmed before she chose to take her own life. The 89-year-old was given advice on drugs to use by euthanasia activist Dr Phillip Nitshke and hoped to use the interview to raise awareness of elderly people who would like to die on their own terms. Susan was not ill at the time of her death and wanted to avoid ending up unable to decide when her time was up. Susan chose not to tell her family of her decision and at the time they were advised that she had passed away in her sleep from natural causes.

Many people viewed Susan’s actions as suicide, given that euthanasia is not legal in Australia. Regardless of the terminology, Susan’s actions raised questions about the right of the elderly to choose to die with dignity. Dr Nitshke believes that the government should make euthanasia drugs available to everyone over 50. Personally, I find 50 to be awfully young for someone to decide to end their own life. But the question remains: who am I to tell someone that at 50 they cannot end their own life? That they have not achieved all they wanted to achieve and have not simply ‘had enough’.

When it comes to terminal illness I 100% support voluntary euthanasia. This is something I don’t have to think about. If I ever become terminally ill then I want the option to go when it suits me, before I have to suffer too much. It gets a little grey when I think about Susan Potts. 89 is a pretty good innings, but she was healthy. It gets greyer still when I think about the Belgian twins. What if advancements in medicine could have improved their quality of life? There are many different scenarios that need to be discussed when considering the legalisation of euthanasia.

We have an aging population so the idea of euthanasia is not going to go away. People are living longer. They might want to check out early rather that hanging on for another 10 years. It’s not the cheeriest topic in the world but I really think we need to continue having strong debate so we can one day reach a place where those who need it are able to end their lives peacefully.

Where do you stand on euthanasia laws? Do you think we all need to talk about it more?

  • Lucy

    This truly is a difficult topic to discuss, and obviously one that provoke many different responses and emotion.

    Having worked in palliative care, I’ve watched as people move through the final stages of their life, and have seen as so many of these people make a wish that they could check out because they didn’t want to lose their dignity.

    I sometimes don’t know how to express my support of euthanasia, because I know it’s such a tough topic, but I do agree that everyone deserves the right to decide when their time is up, under certain conditions.

    Would there be guidelines for legal euthanasia? How can someone decide they’ve had enough? How can we be sure it’s not going to get mixed up with suicide, I would hope there is some measure to prevent people deciding to check out if there is a way of improving their quality of life with treatments and support.

    People deserve the right to die with dignity, if their illness is going to see that they’re unable to make these decisions for themself, then they absolutely deserve the right to make this decision.

    I would hope that if I were to become ill with a terminal illness, I would have the right to decide when enough is enough. I hate to think that I would be one of those patients lying in a bed in a palliative care room waiting for my body to switch off. I would like to think that I could go on my own terms, that I could avoid the inevitable loss of control over my bodily functions, that I could choose to alleviate my suffering and say goodbye.

    There need to be strong guidelines around euthanasia, there is the risk of it getting mixed up with suicide, with ethics becoming confused, with the rights of doctors and health care professionals to assist in euthanasia becoming confused and the legal aspect is phenomenal. There is so much to consider around this topic, but to a degree, I support euthanasia, but I also support the need to fight for someone’s life if there is a possibility it can be improved.

    • Kris2040

      I think a big problem with it is that religion still holds a lot of sway in these kind of laws being made. One of my friends who is very smart, and also very religious, will bust out the “slippery slope” argument regarding euthanasia. Also, I think they have that whole “God will take you when he’s ready” thing, and that you need to see it out for some sort of redemption or something. She’s incredibly liberal about so much other stuff, big lefty, and then shocked me when she started with the slippery slope stuff.
      The problem is, though, that not everyone shares those beliefs, but at the moment, we’re living under laws which reflect them.

      • Hayley Ashman

        Agree, Kris. I don’t understand why beliefs upheld by a minority are pushed upon the majority.

  • http://explore.johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I think it’s strange that we don’t have universal euthanasia laws everywhere…I think everyone should have the right to end their life when they want to…why should I deny anyone that right?

    I think there is a distinction between suicide and euthanasia – suicide is something that someone decides to do in private – they don’t discuss it with their friends and family…they don’t take time to weight up the pros and cons – suicide is a desperate act by a desperate person…I don’t consider the twins deaths to be suicide…they thought about their quality of life, and then made the decision. Even after two years of trying to find a doctor who would help them end their lives, they still went through with it – that’s not a split second decision of desperate people…that’s a committed, well thought-through decision. I might not agree with what they did, but I support their right to end their lives if they felt it was the right thing to do.

    • Lucy

      I think what I was trying to say is that it could be easy for people who argue against euthanasia could blur the line between euthanasia and suicide. I don’t believe the twins’ choice was suicide either.

    • Kris2040

      I thought I saw somewhere that they both had other long term health issues that were getting worse and worse too?

      I agree with JJ, I think it should be up to people when they die. I think suicide prevention is important too, because I think that sometimes people get so desperate for a way out that they can only see one way, and that’s to top themselves, without preparing others for it. Euthanasia is different, as it’s considered. They’re not topping themselves for someone to have to find them and deal with it.
      I watched my Nan die from cancer, as I’m sure so many people have, and if she’d wanted to stop it earlier than she did, she should’ve had every right to do so. As should we all. Mum has always said that should she end up with Alzheimers or some form of dementia, take her out and shoot her. Because she’d rather be dead than not be able to recognise us.

      I think it’s a modern dilemma because we have the technology to keep people alive, well, almost indefinitely, really, but at what cost to their quality and enjoyment of life?

  • Eloise

    The sad and ironic thing is, if euthanasia was a legal option, Susan Jones might not have had to die while still in good health.

    If she could have trusted that, when her health declined, she would be assisted to die, then she wouldn’t have had to make the decision as early as she did. From what I have read of her situation, her decision seemed based on fear of not having the same control down the track if/when her health deteriorated.

    One of the biggest fears I have of old age is being bed ridden, dependent and a burden on my loved ones (and, by that stage, I suspect our old age care facilities will be pretty stretched). I’d much rather know I could end it when I chose, and enjoy the time I had in good health.

    • Kris2040

      Yes, I don’t see how anyone can have a problem with someone saying “If I am at the stage where I can’t eat/am on a respirator/need 24 hour nursing/am beyond recognising my family and friends/whatever, please respect my wish to end my life”. If people don’t want to because of their own beliefs, that’s cool too. But just because their beliefs are about some kind of struggle or something doesn’t mean that everyone believes that and they shouldn’t have to suffer if they don’t want to when it’s needless.

  • Maryann

    I believe that Euthanasia should be legalised. The Dutch have a workable system. I saw my mother die in palliative care of stomach cancer and while the nurses were great it was hell to watch. With my father I made the decision not to continue treatment. I knew this is what he would have wanted as we had discussed it. I know some of my siblings were not thrilled by the decision, mainly on relgious grounds, but they accepted it.

  • http://Carlyfindlay.blogspot.com Carly Findlay

    I have always wondered why we can easily have a pet put down to end their suffering, yet can’t give a human a choice about their own suffering.
    It’s such a tricky topic.
    No one really knows what death feels like so it’s so hard to say “it won’t hurt” or “you won’t suffer long”. I guess if you’re suffering from a terminal illness, it could become so unbearable that you dont want to go on living like that. But then you also may feel you want to fit as much into your life as possible. Oh I don’t know.
    If it was me, at the end stages of a terminal illness, perhaps I’d want the choice. But given I can’t bear to give myself a needle when I need it to stay well, I don’t know if I could bring myself to give myself a needle to die.

  • http://tamsinhowse.com/blog Tamsin Howse

    I think a big part of the discussion we need to have is about the fact that there are 4 kinds of euthanasia, of which 2 are already legal so the whole discussion about legalising euthanasia and the concern that it will open the door up to murder is completely moot – if we already have 2 kinds of euthanasia legalised, we can legalise the 3rd without the 4th.

    The 4 kinds are:
    – Passive Voluntary (refusing treatment)
    – Passive Involuntary (turning off life support)
    – Active Voluntary (actively, voluntarily, taking one’s own life – which is the type up for discussion)
    – Active Involuntary (actively ending someone’s life without their consent)

    I’m in favour of Active Voluntary euthanasia being legal, and regulated.

    • Hayley Ashman

      Thanks for clarifying this, T. The 4 different kinds are exactly why we need to have more discussions on euthanasia. People don’t know what options are already out there and what could be introduced.

  • Sonja van Woerkom

    When I was still considering nursing as my career, I had the honour (and horror) of nursing a women at the very end stages of cancer. I can’t remember what type it was, but I do remember that it had metastasised to basically everywhere. The nurses would tell me that this woman used to be really witty, and full of joy. When I nursed her, she could do nothing for herself. Turning her in bed caused immense pain. She could no longer talk, or eat. She was on constant, high dose morphine. And there was this look in her eyes, that seemed to say to me ‘HELP!’. I remember thinking about…what if we ‘accidentally’ gave her too much morphine? She was in agony everyday, and surely the other option was preferable?

    She died in her sleep one night. As I came in the next morning, I helped wash her for the final time and take her to the morgue. It was both horribly sad, and horribly freeing (for us, her nurses and for her family). She wasn’t in pain any more.

    Anyway, this whole topic of euthanasia is really interesting. It’s one of the reasons I stopped my nursing degree, actually. The idea of being in a workplace where these kinds of situations occur day in, day out was just too much for me – a senior RN summed it up perfectly in regards to me, when she said I cared too much (Not caring at all is an entirely different problem). I think it needs to be taken on case by case basis…but I really have no answers. Just my experience, and the hope that I am never in a situation like the woman I nursed.

    • Sonja van Woerkom

      I also have to say, that I would only ever believe in euthanasia by consent. Which might not be clear in my original comment (“what if we ‘accidentally’ gave her too much morphine?”)

  • Carohutchison

    Hutch works in a hospital and occasionally has patients who die. He is against legalised euthanasia as he’s had to deal with feuding families too many times. The new partner, the squabbling children, the possibly of large inheritances unfortunately can detract from what the sick person actually wants. Doctors already use morphine in doses that relieve pain and may have a side effect of death. Having said all that, once I get to a certain age, I’ll be having a ‘do not resuscitate’ stamp somewhere obvious.

    • Kris2040

      It’s sad that people can’t respect their allegedly loved one’s wishes, isn’t it? There’s a difference between fighting for someone you love, and not listening to them, and I think that’s what happens a lot. I hope our family would never be like that to each other.
      That’s also where being able to make a living will (I think that’s what they’re called) is a good thing – so you can sit down with everyone and say “Right, guys, this is what I want to happen. And you will follow it, because it’s what I want”. I totally understand wanting to keep someone you love around for as long as possible, but surely allowing them to go on their terms is showing that love as well?

    • Maree Talidu

      But having a DNR on your file isn’t euthanasia to me, it just makes sense. When I nursed we had a situation where the terminally ill patient was down as a DNR, and when she went into cardiac arrest, her family started screaming at us to “do something” even though they’d initially been supportive of no resus. When we refused, (as it’s illegal for nurses to override a DNR) the family members took turns trying to do CPR whilst hurling abuse at us.

      I guess my point is: whatever your choice, DISCUSS it clearly and plainly with family and friends so episodes like the one I witnessed don’t occur. All they managed to do was break her ribs and distress themselves further. She was past the point of return.

      • Maree Talidu

        Kris I just saw your comment- agree. open dialogue. I’m 32 and my family know what my wishes are if anything is to go wrong, and vice versa.