Medical euthanasia is legal in Belgium “if those making the decision [to die] can make their wishes clear and are suffering unbearable pain, according to a doctor’s judgement.” It’s no surprise that those categories are starting to slip and blur, and evidence of this is the recent case of a pair of identical 45-year-old brothers from Antwerp, born deaf, who found out they would be going blind, who were euthanized according to their wishes by doctors at a Belgian hospital.
The twins had spent their entire lives together, and their unbearable pain consisted of the prospect that they would be unable to see each other. From the article, it seems that the blindness had not occurred yet, but it’s difficult to tell by the way it’s written. At any rate, the issue here is not the twins’ decision to commit suicide; they could have ended their lives by themselves and we would not be reading about them. It is the participation of the medical profession with the blessing of the state that is the subject. If that was possible in a case like this, it seems that the definition of “unbearable suffering” will end up being purely subjective and/or arbitrary and/or strategic (i.e. whatever the state thinks it should be).
Dangerous. And foreseeable.
There may be more to come in Belgium and Switzerland and elsewhere:
Just days after the twins were killed Belgium’s ruling Socialists tabled a legal amendment which would allow the euthanasia of children and Alzheimer’s sufferers.
The draft legislation calls for ‘the law to be extended to minors if they are capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate.’
The proposed changes are likely to be approved by other parties, although no date has yet been put forward for a parliamentary debate…
A bid to tighten legal controls on assisted deaths in Switzerland and ban suicide tourism was recently rejected by the country’s parliament.
“Suicide tourism.” Now, that’s a term I’d never heard before. But it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Europe appears to be sliding down this particular slope, and I would not be at all surprised if the US follows. Oregon, Washington, and Montana have already set foot on it by allowing physician-assisted suicide under certain fairly strict guidelines.
There are big differences between suicide itself, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia at the request of the patient (the Belgian situation), and euthanasia by the decision of another party, as well as differences when the person is unable to move or communicate and therefore cannot act him/herself. This post would be at least ten thousand words long if I were to tackle those issues and those differences today. Instead, I merely acknowledge them.
But I will say that the story of the Belgian twins is deeply disturbing. If the medical profession saw fit to be involved in this particular case, where would the limits be in the future? Will there be any?