This summer, Laura, a healthy 24-year-old Belgian woman used euthanasia to end her life. Since childhood she has believed, “Life, that’s not for me” and has wanted to die. Other treatments, like counseling, could help her but since a doctor mentioned euthanasia, that is the only “treatment” she wants, death.
This is not the only questionable euthanasia situation in Belgium. In 2002 euthanasia was legalized in Belgium for unbearable and intractable pain, but it has become increasingly common for mental illnesses. In this article a man outlines his mother’s depression and how she chose euthanasia. At the time she had cut off all contact with her son, the doctors did not contact him or involve him (or any family) in the decision-making process to end her life. He raises the question, can “free choice” really come from a mentally ill patient? Why was there no other investigation, no questioning or involvement of family?
Two men, identical twins, had been born deaf. They led a productive life until they found they were going blind. Under Belgian law, it’s the doctor’s judgement that decides if the patient’s claim does indeed involved unbearable pain. Neither of these men were terminally ill or experiencing extreme pain, but they both chose euthanasia and ended their lives 3 years ago.
A 44 year-old Belgian woman also ended her life. She was struggling with anorexia nervousa and it is not uncommon for a handful of women with this disease to request assisted suicide each year. This woman, Ann G., also blew the whistle on her psychiatrist, Dr. Vandereycken, who was sexually abusing her and other patients. A few months after she made this allegation and the Doctor suspended, she ended her life. This woman is tragically dead, and Dr. Vandereycken is back seeing private patients as if nothing happened.
This year, parents from Spain asked doctors to stop feeding their 12-year-old daughter who is suffering from an irreversible neurological disease. The hospital initially refused to starve the girl but after a long battle with the parents, they acquiesced. The parent’s attorney assured that the process would take “only a couple of days, or up to thirty-eight or forty.” The mother argues she wants a dignified death for her daughter, and starvation is the way. In Spain, patients with incurable and irreversible diseases have the right to refuse medical help, parents are responsible for making the choice for minors. This little girl can breathe on her own and her organs function fine, she just requires gastrostomy (fed through a tube directly to the stomach). Thousands of patients in Spain rely on similar methods. This isn’t allowing her to die, it is killing her through starvation and thirst, no person, no matter how healthy, could withstand that for very long.
In Canada this year, the ban on doctor-assisted suicide was unanimously struck down by Canada’s supreme court. I would not be surprised by a following in Belgium’s footsteps, more assisted suicide for more treatable causes, like mental health. There is another alarming trend is happening in Canada that I think can be negatively influenced by euthanasia laws.
In Canada, persons 65 and older make up 16.1% of the population, surpassing the 16% who are 15 and under. While this does not seem a huge increase, this is the first time the elderly have outnumbered the young in Canada. This gap is only projected to grow. This will put a strain on health care systems, public services, and tax-paying workforce. I am not only worried about the strain to public systems, but also to personal ones.
Euthanasia, as shown in Belgium, evolved from it’s original intention (and quickly too). Is it much of a leap to question if euthanasia will become the easy way out for the younger generations of Canada to relieve their elderly of the ‘irreversible predicament of getting old’? It will be a hard and expensive process to care for the elderly when they outnumber the young, and euthanasia is relatively quick and cheap.