By PNW Staff September 17, 2016
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This week came the disturbing news out of Rio that one of the Belgian Paralympians is considering suicide after the Paralympics are over. The athlete in question, Marieke Vervoort, has since denied she has any plans to end her life even though she does say she has her euthanasia papers “in hand”.
Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002 when it became only the second country in the world to legalize assisted dying. To be eligible for euthanasia in Belgium, the law does not require that a patient be terminal, only that they are experiencing unbearable physical suffering. That’s why Marieke Vervoort, who suffers from a painful degenerative spinal condition is eligible.
She claims that euthanasia being legal allows her to keep living in peace knowing that she can end her life when she is ready. In a media conference she claimed that she “would have committed suicide” had it not been for the fact that euthanasia was a possibility.
In the decade after Belgium legalized doctor-assisted death, the number of patients using it to end their lives rose 800%, according to records of the national euthanasia control committee.
Critics of Belgium’s law believe the law sends the wrong message about of the value of life and that the law is effecting the country’s most vulnerable. In 2013 Belgium extended their euthanasia laws to also include children, despite proponents earlier saying that it would never apply to children.
Just last year it emerged that a woman suffering from ‘suicidal thoughts’ had been given the green light to end her own life despite suffering no physical illness. While the law is meant to prevent euthanasia in such cases, critics argue that increasingly the safeguards are being openly ignored.
The renewed focus on euthanasia comes at a time when the practice is rapidly spreading across the world. The Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia and Luxemburg have legalized euthanasia while in Switzerland, Germany, Japan and Canada, doctor-assisted suicide, where patients take the final action themselves, is legal. Australia is currently considering legislation which would legalize euthanasia in the coming weeks as well.
In the United States euthanasia is already legal in 5 states including Washington, Oregon, California, Montana and Vermont. Proponents however are attempting to legalize assisted dying nationwide with 20 states currently facing proposed euthanasia legislation.
Attempts have been made in the past to legalize euthanasia via the courts, but these failed after the Supreme Court ruled that there is no implied right to die in the constitution.
Opponents of euthanasia argue that what is needed is better support structures for the disabled and dying rather than euthanasia. They argue we should be supporting those who ask to die and helping to make their lives more worthwhile rather than just giving up on them and allowing them to end their lives.
Much of the debate around assisted dying focuses on the individuals rights. There is a very real fear that some elderly and mentally ill patients could be pressured or even coerced into asking for euthanasia.
For these patients the legalization of assisted dying represents a threat to their autonomy. When policy makers make law they have to consider the ramifications for wider society, not just for the individuals involved.
Euthanasia is not a new issue, people have debated about whether individuals have a right to die for hundreds of years. What is new however is how much momentum the ‘For’ campaign has managed to build.
Unless the case against euthanasia is made strongly by Bible believing Christians, euthanasia could well become a reality across the world.