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Thread: Belgium's Euthanasia Laws

  1. #1

    Default Belgium's Euthanasia Laws

    This post will come with a trigger warning. I will be talking about Euthanasia, my experiences with severe mental illnesses, and suicide.
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    (The bottom of the post will have the video in question and I will put links to my sources.)
    I recently watched an Australian program about Belgium's Euthanasia laws. To put it in context, Belgium has the most liberal euthanasia laws. That nation allows euthanasia in not only cases of terminal illness; but also for those with incurable, painful yet nonterminal illnesses; children, and those with psychiatric conditions such as depression. To put it simply, the law allows people to be euthanized if they are deemed to have constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering. Euthanasia is done either on request or by advance directive from the patient. The legal processes for euthanasia in Belgium are such that in nonterminal cases, three doctors must be consulted and must each give their opinion that the euthanasia can go ahead. In psychiatric cases, the three doctors don't have to be psychiatrists.

    One part that concerns me is the Review Committee. It is a federal panel of 16 people, mostly doctors and lawyers, that review each and every euthanasia case that happens in the country. This committee only reviews cases After the patient has already died. What's more surprising is the fact that very few cases have ever been flagged and handed over for judicial review.

    For me, I can support euthanasia for the terminally ill. I can see the rationale for euthanasia for people who have unbearable conditions that are nonterminal, but I am still on the fence for those such cases. I can't support euthanasia for people with psychiatric illnesses or conditions. I can't support euthanasia for minors.

    I have concerns about euthanasia for minors and psychiatric cases in particular.

    Speaking first about the psychiatric reasons for euthanasia, I will open up with a story first. I have/had several very severe mental illnesses. When I was a preteen, I had anorexia. Along with the anorexia, I had severe depression that drove me to consider suicide. I even sent my mom emails begging her to allow me to die... I told her not to call the ambulance when I would carry out my plan. After I recovered from my anorexia, I struggled for years to control my depression and my self harm. I finally found my medication that worked, and I have been stable for a while now.

    Why tell my story? I know how hopeless mental illness/conditions can make a person feel. I have experienced the bleak hopelessness that my depression brought. I have felt the pain that the eating disorder brought me. I have felt the excruciating loneliness that resulted from these conditions along with my Aspergers. I have felt like I was a burden to those who loved me. I have felt the wish to die. For the pain to end.

    Well, the mental pain has subsided. I find new happiness in every single day. I feel the love of my family, my boyfriend, and even my dog. I take great pleasure in walking through the park trails with my dog. I love feeling the wind on my face as I rollerblade. I love the feeling like I'm flying while I'm rollerblading. I love feeling the bow slide across the strings of my violin as I make music. I love the feeling when I've finished a piece of writing. The feeling of completion. I love reading and learning. I love feeling the connection that I feel when I am in my boyfriend's arms. I love the way that my sister and my boyfriend make me laugh. I love the taste of my mother's home-cooked meals.

    This isn't to say that I've never had bad days or pain. I have bad days. I sometimes feel the pain of loneliness. I sometimes get frustrated with myself and my autism. But if I had been allowed to end my life that fateful day that I sent my mom those emails, I would never experience these things again. I would never get happiness. I would never get time with my family. I would never meet my boyfriend.

    When I was in my depression, I was not in the right frame of mind. The depression colored my world as a bleak and hopeless existence. It scares me that people in such frame of mind would be allowed to make such a final decision. I understand that many of those people had been struggling for decades with severe and treatment resistant illness. The pain from intractable depression is innumerable.

    I am worried that people who could be successfully treated with medication and therapy are being allowed to make the most permanent decision of their lives. I am worried about what kind of message that euthanasia for these cases sends. I am worried about people thinking that dying is an acceptable way to get out when there could be better times in the future.

    I am also disturbed about cases of euthanasia for things such as blindness, autism, and even grief. Grief is a part of human life. An extremely painful part of human life, but dying isn't the answer to it. Grief has a tendency to soften in intensity over time. Grief should be managed with the support of loved ones and professionals such as therapists and psychiatrists. As for my aspergers, the pain comes from the social ostracism. For many autistic adults, there are also struggles to find employment, maintain relationships, and even live independently. Killing autistic people isn't the answer. Society should take a good, hard look at how they treat those with differences. Same goes with blindness. Going blind is a nightmare for many, but many people with blindness live fulfilling and happy lives. There are ways to learn and adapt to blindness.

    As for children, I have a large problem with that. For very young children, the thought that a parent can just consent to a child being euthanized opens up Pandora's box in a new way than the psychiatric cases. It brings up the issue of who is really consenting. Could the child be swayed by the influence of the parent's? Could this become a new way to simply offload the burden of caring for severely ill/ special needs children?

    At the root of this issue, I just wish that we can learn better ways to help people alleviate pain and suffering without people resorting to euthanasia. I wish that we can really find better ways to treat all of these painful conditions. I just wish that society would take a hard look at how they treat people with differences and disabilities and maybe start adapting to some of their needs.

    I thank you for reading this post as this is an extremely long post... I know this is controversial to say the least. I don't mean to stir up trouble...

    Here are my sources:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5530592/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCRpuTRA7-g

  2. #2

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    It's very hard to strike the right balance; on the one hand, someone with a psychiatric condition can easily be led to make the wrong choices. In theory, the three doctors' approval is supposed to check that, but I can see why that alone would lead to some nervousness.

    On the other hand, in some situations I think a person's autonomy in that regard ought to be respected. "The Man With the Seven Second Memory" comes to mind.

  3. #3

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    I belong to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and ASAN's position is "NO" to Physician-Assisted Suicide, because it is usually pitched to us disabled adults.
    Back in 2014, I testified in committee at the NH State House and my testimony killed Physician-Assisted Suicide here in the State of New Hampshire.

  4. #4

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    Well @Leio: I largely feel the same way as you since I have years of experiencing mental health problems and for me I always will as life seems to go in cycles and I'm diagnosed as Bipolar (though not diagnosed type 1 or 2 because I'm not a "textbook" case) and in the past I was bad into Self Harm, not so bad as to ever almost kill myself, but more than enough for people to be concerned enough that I was almost hospitalized twice.

    I'm no Psychiatrist or anything, but I have a working theory that basically I endured and internalized many stresses throughout my life, that combined with having a significant portion of family with Mental Health Problems (a lot of people in my family believe my Grandmother has such problem, along with my Niece, and several confirmed cases of Cousins and Aunts) lead to me eventually being in mental distress and before I could come to realize and accept what was going on I hated life and often felt like Dying and Self Harm had become a (toxic) comfort to ease my emotional suffering.

    Eventually I came to realize I was in an awful situation and I had to work with Therapists and get on medication to level me out and I knew Self Harm is stupid and not worth it and could only serve to make things worse long term; Life can often still be a struggle but I have found things to enjoy, I have several hobbies and I try to stay busy and happy, and also have not Self Harmed in years.

    As there have been many amazing Highs and some crushing Lows in my life, I could have done something permanent and died, but here I am trying to make the best of life.

    So I really do sympathize with people that are suffering and who may still be suffering and would hate for people to end their lives because they don't think it can ever get better.

    But that's the thing, If Someones life is so bad they feel like they are at the bottom of a deep ravine, there is nowhere to go but up.

    Chances are it won't be easy and it takes a lot of time and effort to get to that better point, but if they were to die they would never be able to experience how good life can be.

    In my personal life I find some dilemma in that if I had as much free time as I would like for all my hobbies I would not have the money to be able to enjoy my hobbies as much as I want, and if I always worked overtime to get extra money to enjoy my hobbies I wouldn't have the time to enjoy them.

    It sucks in the moment to work a lot of overtime and it can make me very stressed out, but it's worth it long term to be able to have the money to enjoy hobbies.

    I hope more people can find some way to strike that balance in life and find enjoyment rather than to just end their life, as that's truly the only time it's a completely wasted life.

    It just sucks that for most people anything worth experiencing in life doesn't come easy, and to get to a point of contention may take a lot of long term suffering.

  5. #5

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    I am fortunate enough to never have suffered depression or suicidal thoughts, but I know that it would be very easy for me to slide down that path. I suffer from chronic migraines and haven't had a pain-free day in years, I suffered trauma from losing a parent at a young age, my severely autistic brother puts stress on the whole family with aggressive episodes...I know many people have it worse than me, but my life hasn't exactly been a walk in the park.
    So, I can bear all this. I have lots of fulfilling hobbies, I have a functioning social life and supportive family, I have days where the pain doesn't bother me as much. But what if I didn't have that? What if I couldn't distract myself with drawing, sewing, singing? What if my family wasn't so closely knit and supportive? What if every day was a "bad pain day"? I have been to too many doctors to count, no one has a solution to my migraines, most painkillers don't work on me and the ones that do, I'm only allowed to take twice a month. I'm still holding on to the hope that one day the pain will disappear, but what will happen when I lose that hope? I am still young. Would euthanasia mean wasting a life, or sparing a life of suffering?

    I'm not saying I want to die. God no, I have so much planned yet. I want children, I want to see them grow up, I want to travel, I want to learn. But if my situation was just a little different, if my brain was wired just a little less positive, who is to say that I wouldn't welcome death?
    I know that there are many people living with chronic pain, but some people can bear this better than others. There's always the argument that "it will get better", but for some people, it just doesn't.

    Assisted suicide is illegal in Germany, but there is a thing where you can decide you don't ever want to be put on life support, and doctors have to respect that. I have a bit of an issue with that: Many people, when healthy, abhor the thought of being kept alive by a machine. But what if you're in an accident, are expected to make a full recovery, but just need help breathing or a feeding tube for two days?
    Many people also can't imagine a life in a wheelchair, or blind, and are even saying they would rather die. I don't believe such claims. They are made as a outsider, as someone not living in that situation.

    Did you know that prescribing someone medicine that has harmful side effects can sometimes count as assisted suicide? There are pills, especially painkillers, that can ease one's suffering, but will shorten their life. In those cases, the doctor usually requires a patient's written agreement to being prescribed that medicine. It's usually done with older patients who would not have any quality of life without those pills, but it's an interesting fact to consider. If we want to ban any and all assisted suicide, do we ban those painkillers as well?

    Maybe I'm not making much sense here. I'm not really advocating for EAS, but I don't think it's evil incarnate. Especially for minors, there has to be a psychiatrist involved who will evaluate whether the child can make that decision. Yes, it's still not foolproof, but there are hurdles in place...

  6. #6

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    It's my personal belief that if someone wishes to truly die then it is their right to choose to do so in a clinical setting. Although this should be done through proper channels and there should be a process involving many visits to different Psychiatrists.

  7. #7

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    When I quickly think about it, I would say I agree with assisted suicide, but when I put serious thought into it, I don't agree so much, yes if you have terminal disease the option should be there, but opening options to none terminal diseases seems like a detriment to our society, mental health issues are horrible issues to live with, there is no doubt in my mind that people with symptoms of depression have these demons are plagued with severe almost traumatic issues, but that's no reason to hang it up, I would like to think that as a society we would be striving to help these men and women out, not help them end there lives.

  8. #8

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    I think it goes without saying that we don't know what it's like for these other people.

    The older lady had lost her daughter and appeared to have no family, so to her the grief and loneliness was too much to bear. She had lived, and wanted to go in peace.

    The gentleman with the migraines or cluster headaches has no quality of life if he is in hospital, unable to work or be with his family and there is not a cure for the pain, just drugs to sedate him.

    I myself have known pain that never goes away. I had two degenerated spinal discs with nerve impingement that I dealt with for well over a year with every treatment or therapy making the issue just get worse. I seriously was at the end of my rope... laying down didn't help, standing didn't help, sitting made it worse. I literally was unable to do anything but be in pain and angry about it. Finally found a surgeon to operate and I have been ok since.

    I have made it clear to my family that if I were to go into a coma and have no hope for recovery, I wish to be let go. I have said to wait asome time first... I mean let's not act too quick here.

    I think I could handle being in a chair, deaf would be hard, blind would kill me.

    In the end I do think that assisted suicide should be allowed, if somebody has decided that they don't want to go on, they should have the right to go at peace. Somebody who is determined to end their life will do it one way or another.... I'd think I'd rather have them do it under controlled care than to do it themselves and have somebody find them dead. Like the young guy said, he could kill himself but what of his kids found him or his wife


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  9. #9

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    For me,

    The concern I have is about the ease in which someone could end their lives in Belgium. It seems as though the net had been cast too wide. I believe that euthanasia should be reserved as a last resort. I believe that many different psychiatrists should assess the person wishing to die to accurately measure their competence to make such a drastic and permanent decision.

    I respect a person's bodily autonomy. I believe that that is key to medicine. It broke my heart to see the people in the video in their suffering. I accept that people can choose euthanasia for excruciating yet non terminal illnesses such as cluster headaches when all treatments have been exhausted.

    My chief concern in the video was with the woman in grief. Losing someone you dearly love is awful beyond words. Losing your own child so suddenly multiplies that grief. I believe that there are many other methods of dealing with psychological pain and grief. I was concerned that the grieving woman was allowed euthanasia so readily for a feeling that could decrease with time, therapy, and other methods of psychological support.

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