A recent SBS Dateline documentary “Allow me to die,” about the issue of euthanasia in Belgium was rerun on 24 November 2015. In this documentary, a father in his 30’s is considering euthanasia to deal with his persistent mega migraine headaches. Also the documentary shows the death of an older lady of good health who was struggling to cope with her daughter’s death.
I have a small personal connection to the story. I met the Assistant Producer for this Dateline documentary who was down at the anti-Euthanasia conference I attended in Adelaide in May. She told me that when she began working on this story she was pro-euthanasia. However, after spending time researching the practice of euthanasia in Belgium she had changed her mind as she could see that it was impossible to put in place adequate safeguards.
Another person I met at the conference in Adelaide was Tom Mortier, who is from Belgium. His experience with Euthanasia was covered in the SBS Dateline documentary. At the conference I heard his story in depth. His father committed suicide when he was a young child. He had to step up and be the man of the house since that time to help his struggling mother and sister. At one point when he was a young adult he contemplated suicide but thankfully found some purpose in life. His relationship with his mother was a difficult one that oscillated from close contact to period of separation that was related to her ongoing struggle with depression. During one of those periods of separation in early 2012, Tom received a letter from a doctor saying that his mother was going to be euthanized due to her depression. This letter sent him into a state of panic but he was not able to get in contact with his mother. A few days later he got a call asking him to come to a mortuary to organise for her body to be transported to a research institute as requested in her will that he never seen. This whole experience was extremely traumatic for Tom and he still is coming to terms with this tragic event.
The scary thing about what is happening in Belgium is that the practice of Euthanasia has moved along way beyond people suffering from terminal illness. It is now something that is much broader that encompasses mental illnesses and people of all different ages from babies to the elderly.
The documentary also features Professor Theo Boer, a Dutch ethicist, who was once a supporter of the euthanasia laws in the Netherlands. He now thinks that these euthanasia laws are a mistake and that “something is going terribly wrong”. He points out that euthanasia has become the default choice for those with cancer. Furthermore the laws are being used by people who are becoming “tired of life.” These developments are well beyond what the architects of these laws intended.
While this topic is not the most popular dinner party subject we need to deepen our understanding of how people experience death and suffering in our age. We also need to be able to point out to people the risks of euthanasia laws for our own country at a time when programs like the ABC’s Q&A deal with this topic in such a one sided manner (link to my story on Q&A). So I would recommend watching this story here: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/euthanasia-matter-life-and-death or on SBS On Demand one night when the kids are in bed.