A new BBC report has been published on Belgian paralympian Marieke Vervoort who has obtained papers authorising her euthanasia. She has suffered from a progressive, incurable spinal condition, for 16 years. The report describes her severe pain which is not fully controllable by medication. A video clip shows her suffering. The story follows an earlier report last September.
Her case demonstrates how a supportive, professional approach to palliative care can include the possibility of euthanasia, in a country where it is a legal option. When Marieke felt suicidal, due to her incurable condition, she was referred to a palliative care expert who discussed the option of euthanasia with her. The knowledge that she could end her life in a peaceful manner at a time she chose, gave her the ability to carry on – perhaps prolonging her life by avoiding a suicide, and certainly improving its quality.
“If I didn’t have those papers
“With euthanasia you’re sure that you will have a soft, beautiful death.”
In contrast, in the UK there is no legal option of medically assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia. As a result, doctors cannot discuss it meaningfully, so people like Marieke cannot get the consultation they need. This aspect of the doctor patient relationship is broken. Instead people are driven to consider other ways of ending their lives, possibly earlier than they would wish, while they are still able. Options include going to one of the Swiss organisations that can offer assisted suicide to foreigners, or unassisted suicide. Both these options have many disadvantages. We need a more compassionate approach in this country.
It is important to point out that this case is another example of someone who is not terminally ill, in the sense of having a life expectancy of six months or less. Because of this, the approach taken by Dignity in Dying would not help people like Marieke as that proposal restricts assisted dying to people with a six month life expectancy or less – an approach that was rejected by the House of Commons in September 2015. Marieke’s story is another example of why MDMD do not support the six month criterion.
It is only when assisted suicide or euthanasia is a legal option that palliative care can offer the full range of options a person may want, together with meaningful independent professional consultation to help the patient reach the best decision for them. The irony, demonstrated so clearly by Marieke Vervoort, is that the possibility of a medically assisted death can actually prolong life. And not only that – it can improve the quality of life during the remaining time, helping to reduce understandable depression and anxiety, and eventually bring about a “soft, beautiful death” – the sort of good death some people want.
MDMD wish Marieke Vervoort the best death she can have, on her terms, when she chooses. We are very grateful that she has shared her story with the media to help publicise these important issues. We hope that one day the choices that have helped Marieke will be available to help people in the UK.