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“That these men wanted to die is tragic; that the state sanctioned and aided their suicide is frightening”

by | Jan 17, 2013

By Dave Andrusko

Marc and Eddy Verbessem

Marc and Eddy Verbessem

What made the deaths of identical twins in Belgium—both euthanized reportedly at their own request–such an important story? Some of the answers are obvious, but many are not.

For most people, but with plenty of exceptions, it breaks the heart that these two brothers, born deaf, asked to be killed because they faced the prospect of eventually going blind and (as many accounts described it) “chose death as they were unable to bear the thought of never seeing one another again.”

I would never trivialize the pain that would cause them, but to chose to have themselves lethally injected? And, supposedly, with their family’s approval?!

This sad, sad story is significant for a reminder that a person in Belgium can request to be euthanized even though they are in perfect health. It’s supposedly unbearable physical or mental suffering that is the precondition.

“Unbearable suffering can be mental as well as physical,” the hospital spokesman said. “The brothers were inseparable. They lived together and had the same job.” Think about that in the context of a world where the lives people with disabilities are routinely devalued.

The response over the next weeks and months from the deaf/blind community will be critical. For now there is this from Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. (I have this courtesy of Stephen Drake, who reprinted it on his disability rights blog, “Not Dead Yet.” )

“This disturbing news from Belgium is a stark example of the common, and in this case tragic, misunderstanding of disability and its consequences. Adjustment to any disability is difficult, and deaf-blind people face their own particular challenges, but from at least the time of Helen Keller it has been known that these challenges can be met, and the technology and services available today have vastly improved prospects for the deaf-blind and others with disabilities. That these men wanted to die is tragic; that the state sanctioned and aided their suicide is frightening.”

For his part, Drake wrote that

“[T]he Deaf-blind organization in Belgium should speak out on this.  In fact, I think it would be a big mistake for organizations and individuals outside of Belgium not to speak out about this double-killing. Otherwise, the discussion will be dominated by Belgian euthanasia apologists, euthanasia advocates of all stripes, and bioethicists talking out the ‘problem’ of ‘extreme’ cases.  And then everyone will forget– until the next and more extreme killing comes along.”

Indeed, the deaths of the 45-year-old brothers  has already drawn the attention of those whose loathing for the institutional church is unlimited. That, for example, the Catholic Church finds these deaths tragic and avoidable simply makes them even angrier. See, for example, “Belgium Twin Brothers Die by Euthanasia — Assisted Suicide Should Be Legal in America,” that ran on the Huffington Post. And to be clear, these brothers were killed—euthanized– not “assisted” in their deaths.

Put these last two points together and the conclusion is as frightening as it is obvious: assisted suicide always was a way station on the road to euthanasia and not for people with “incurable” diseases but for anyone who is depressed, despondent, or in denial.

As we talked about yesterday, part of the romanticism (and I don’t think the description is overstating the situation) around admittedly difficult cases is that the assumption that the individuals have themselves killed (or assisted to die) by physicians familiar with their situation. But as Wesley Smith pointed out yesterday, ”The first doctor the men went to asking to be killed said no. So, they merely went doctor shopping until they found one willing to kill,” what he called “Pure Kevorkianism.”

Wesley’s overarching point is that this is exactly what happened when Oregon first legalized assisted suicide and may still be taking place, but we don’t know because Oregon no longer provides that information.

Last point, there is something else far darker at work in the response to their deaths.

Drake wrote about the recent suicide of “programmer/activist/open source advocate Aaron Swartz” and to reports from the Pentagon that last year deaths by suicide reached a record number. He observes

“Read through the comments on any of the countless articles covering these suicide stories and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone reacting like this:

‘It’s their body, their choice.’

‘When people decide they need to end it, they should be able to get help to do so.’

‘It’s too bad they had to use violent means–animals can get euthanized; we treat animals better than humans.”

“The lack of statements like those struck me,” Drake writes, “because they’re common sentiments expressed in article ‘comments,’ and interactions on Facebook when people react to ‘double euthanasia’ of Marc and Eddy Verbessem, the identical twins whose deaths are still making news.

“I think that we don’t see those comments in the cases of Aaron Swartz and the military because those people are valued. I know that euthanasia proponents say that their movement is all about respecting individual choice, but why are the ‘choices’ of  Marc and Eddy Verbessem ‘respected’ while the suicides of military personnel and the suicide of Aaron Swartz are treated as preventable tragedies?

“The answer, of course, is that euthanasia isn’t about ‘respect,’ but agreeing that another person’s continued existence is pointless.”

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Categories: Euthanasia