Belgian Olympian Faces Final Challenge
Olympians amaze and astound people across the globe with their unmatched athleticism, agility, and stamina. Olympians perform such jaw-dropping feats that oftentimes people question whether they are human. However, they are every bit as human as you and me. Olympian Marieke Vervoot exemplifies this idea, for she currently faces the same challenge that thousands of individuals across the world face: ending one’s own life via euthanasia. Vervoot won gold in the 100-meter wheelchair sprint in 2012 and has recently competed in her final Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Citing that competing is her main passion in life, she has now requested to be euthanized. Many view her desire as inhumane and barbaric. While those people certainly have a valid argument, one must consider many different aspects of the individual’s life and evaluate the patient’s claim before dismissing it as unethical.
Belgium has the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world. The practice was legalized for adults in 2003, a year in which 235 people were euthanized. In 2013, there were 1,816 cases of euthanasia and currently about 1 in 20 Belgian deaths are assisted suicides (Carle). In 2014, Belgium became the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia of children (with parents’ consent). In order to be eligible for euthanasia, a patient must exhibit chronic, debilitating, and incurable physical or mental pain. Most patients seeking euthanasia are diagnosed with terminal cancer, but people with psychological disorders and autism have also been euthanized. Belgium’s cultural acceptance of euthanasia and the policies created as a result of this mindset have allowed people like Vervoot to pursue a more dignified and peaceful way to end their lives.
Marieke suffers from a degenerative disease that has impaired her vision and causes her great pain everyday. Her lone salvation is competing, saying, “sport is my only reason for living” (Cook). That is one thing her condition has not taken away from her: the ability to compete at a very high level. After these Olympics, Vervoot says that she will have nothing to live for, which is the primary reason she seeks to end her life. Dr. Wim Distelmans, a Belgian doctor on the vanguard of euthanasia, argues that the Vervoot’s prospect of being euthanized has actually extended her life. He explains, “The certainty that there is an emergency brake to stop the intolerable pain gives one peace. This mindset can extend one’s life”. Distelmans argues that euthanasia can bring clarity to someone whose life has been characterized by uncertainty and fear. By knowing that she is able to die on her own terms, Vervoot will be able to focus on all the positive aspects of her life rather than obsess over all of her interminable pain. As a result, she might find something so worthwhile, like competing, that will give her the motivation to live even longer.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel led a study about patients’ feelings towards euthanasia and whether they would seriously consider it for themselves. His study found that those seriously considering euthanasia had the following common characteristics: depressive symptoms, substantial caregiving needs, and pain. Why is it ethical for a judge to force these people to feel such anguish every day for the rest of their lives? This question becomes especially pertinent when the patient has a neurodegenerative disorder, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Is it not better for people to die on their own terms, rather than dependent on a machine to keep them living for an extra year or two? For some patients, euthanasia provides a more dignified and humane way to die.
There are millions of smart and talented individuals across the globe whose end-of-life experiences are plagued with machines breathing, eating, and speaking for them. After evaluating the costs of dying and the benefits of living, doctors, judges, and legislators must realize that sometimes it is ethical to die as a functioning human being rather than live with perpetual pain.
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Accessed 19 August 2016. <http://www.bioedge.org/bioethics/gold-medallist-
“Current Law Regarding Euthanasia in Belgium”. Patients Rights Council. Accessed 22 August 2016.
Emanuel, EJ, et. al. “Attitudes and Desires Related to Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted
Suicide among Terminally Ill patients and their Caregivers”. JAMA. Accessed 19