Thursday, February 14, 2013

Word of the Day: EUTHANASIA

No doubt the title of this blog entry got your attention.  "Euthanasia" is a loaded word, emotionally packed on both sides of the issue.  Here in America, that word still invokes memories of news stories involving Dr. Jack Kevorkian (aka "Dr. Death") and his administering of assisted suicides to patients deemed terminally ill and who wanted their suffering to end during the 1990's.  The idea of death with dignity, including Death with Dignity laws having been passed in Washington state and Oregon, was, and remains, the impetus for assisted suicides.

In this entry, however, I want to focus on a story out of Belgium that took place two months ago, but just recently came to my attention.  It's the story of twin brothers, Marc and Eddy Verbessem, who were euthanized late last year.  The 45-year-old twins were already deaf when they learned they were also beginning to go blind.  It was their deafness and pending blindness that were their reasons for petitioning to be euthanized. 

You read that correctly: their deafness and blindness -- pending blindness, that is -- was the basis for their argument in favor of euthanasia for both of them.  Apparently the twins were so close, growing up together and living together in their adult life, that felt they had no other option since they were so emotionally distraught about their deteriorating situation.  As Belgium is one of just three countries that allow for euthanasia on non-terminal cases -- Switzerland and the Netherlands are the other two -- the twin brothers looked for a hospital that would honor their request.  Initially turned down, their request was finally accepted, following a two-year search.  Once they received confirmation, family noted that they were relieved their suffering would end soon.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem were euthanized on December 14, 2012.

The usual understanding of euthanasia is the peaceful ending of someone's life who is suffering from a terminal illness or whose quality of life is irreversibly affected in a negative manner.  It is also known as mercy killing.  In the case of the Verbessem brothers, I'm wondering about the illness that reports say they had.  I haven't seen what the illness was, so I am assuming it had something to do with their loss of hearing, their loss of sight, or both.  I'm also wondering about their quality of life.  They would have to become dependent due to the loss of those two senses, something they did not want. 

What appears from the reporting on this story as the real tipping point for the brothers was the knowledge that they would not only be unable to hear each other, but would also be unable to see each other.  That thought was their ultimate unbearable weight.  That thought was the catalyst for their decision to end their lives.

I neither presume to know the depth of emotional distress the brothers experienced, nor do I feel it is appropriate for me to condemn their decision.  It is also important to remember here the special bond that twins have for each other and how that must have played a part in this.  All I can offer here is simply my agreement or disagreement with their decision, while acknowledging my lack of access to inside their brains.

I do believe the loss of any of our five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing) is never an easy thing with which to deal, let alone live with it.  To lose more than one sense is hardly easily dismissed, so I know they did not have an easy burden.  Nonetheless, I would offer my disagreement with their decision.  My disagreement is not, and cannot be, based in knowing better than they do.

My disagreement is with their basis for requesting euthanasia.  While I am certain that they were extremely distraught, I feel ill at ease with their being unable to bear not being able to see each other as a reason for ending their lives.  I can understand about their having to become dependent, as I care for my legally blind mother who is dependent on me, but at forty-five years of age, they could have been able to learn to have some sort of a functional life.

I also disagree with Belgium, as well as Switzerland and the Netherlands, making euthanasia available to non-terminal cases.  It would seem to require that any non-terminal individuals requesting for euthanasia should be put under an even stricter scrutiny, although I believe that if it is legal and offered, then it really should be reserved for solely terminal cases.

I am not arguing pro or con regarding euthanasia, but I feel that something which is no small consideration -- clearly a life-changing decision -- was not applicable to their situation.  My fear is that anyone who is extremely distraught for whatever their situation is, or issues are, will see this as an open door to change the nature of euthanasia.  It is called mercy killing because it is intended to show a suffering individual mercy at the end of their life.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem's decision is their decision; no one can take that away from them.  My concern is that this will change the nature of euthanasia, where mercy killing is transformed into convenience killing.  


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