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.
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?