A difficult case

January 16th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Two identical and deaf Belgian brothers have been euthanised after the inseparable middle-aged pair found out they were going blind and would never see each other again.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem were 45. They lived and worked together; and last month they died together after a Belgium hospital accepted their request to be euthanised.

Belgium is one of three countries where is legal for non-terminally ill patients.

So long as people are mentally competent and rational, I think they should be able to decide to end their own lives. This case is a good example of how difficult a case can be.

The twins’ brother Dirk Verbessem defended their decision.

“Many will wonder why my brothers have opted for euthanasia because there are plenty of deaf and blind that have a ‘normal’ life,” The Telegraph reported him as saying.

“But my brothers trudged from one disease to another. They were really worn out.”

His brothers were both going blind with glaucoma and Eddy had a deformed spine and had recently undergone heart surgery, The Telegraph reported.

“The great fear that they would no longer be able to see, or hear, each other and the family was, for my brothers, unbearable,” he said.

Dr David Durfour, who treated the brothers, said their physical condition was strongly deteriorating and it was a “weight off their shoulders” when they learnt their request to be euthanised had been accepted, the Huffington Post reported.

“They were happy and relieved that a date was set to end their suffering.”

The day of their deaths was “serene and beautiful”, week.co.uk reported the doctor as saying.

“They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well… The separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone.”

An ending the brothers preferred to the alternative.

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49 Responses to “A difficult case”

  1. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Cue the Godbotherers who’ll be along shortly to tell us why decisions about our lives should be made by them.

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  2. Lance (2,719 comments) says:

    Oh great .. nassaka immediately attempts to shut down debate by pre-labeling anybody that disagrees… godbothers.

    Why not just label anybody that disagrees with you as a pedophile Nazi?

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  3. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Lance

    Because they may not be paedophile Nazis.

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  4. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    The courage of others in the face of their own deaths often amazes me.

    This must have been tough for their family, but then it sounds like watching the twins’ lives would have been fairly harrowing too…

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  5. David in Chch (523 comments) says:

    Your header says it all, really.

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  6. dime (10,222 comments) says:

    Poor buggas.

    “They were happy and relieved that a date was set to end their suffering.” – imagine getting that call.

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  7. Andrei (2,653 comments) says:

    The truth is that anybody can end their life any time they want and nobody can stop them if they are so determined.

    What the goal is here is for the STATE to create protocols to put people down.

    It starts with sad cases of people in dire circumstances to rend the hearts of people of good will. Benevolence seems to dictate we should allow these people “to end their lives with dignity”. It all seems so wise and humane.

    Then the next hard case, someone who has lost the ability to determine for themselves it “is time to go” and the goal posts are shifted just a little as panels are formed to sign off the putting down of people non compos mentis

    And then people will start to be defined as non compos mentis and put before the panels to have their deaths signed off.

    And just like abortion which currently prematurely ends 17000 lives a year we will soon find we are putting down ever more of our citizens who have passed their “use by date” and have become a burden on their families and society.

    It will seem all so modern and humane.

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  8. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Andrei

    Wow…..that crystal ball polisher seems to have done the trick.

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  9. Griff (8,419 comments) says:

    The slippery slope
    I have not seen that argument before
    Rather than look at silly logic fails most would examine honesty their view of death
    In particular they would carefully examine the logic in trying to stop people enjoying their projected future nirvana sooner
    making them instead stay within a tormented life.

    Compassion is something to hold high
    Torturing others to uphold your own belief is not compassion.

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  10. Andrei (2,653 comments) says:

    nasska, I have been watching how this works all my life, how the forcces of “progress” have an end goal which would horrify the people so they implement it by stealth, a little bit at a time, each step advanced with “hard cases” to tug at the heart strings.

    And when those who are awake point high light where we are headed, they are mocked and derided, their concerns flicked off as absurd, until they come to pass

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  11. Lance (2,719 comments) says:

    @Andrei
    Stop talking sense, you will get the old ‘pedophile Nazi’ label.

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  12. iMP (2,457 comments) says:

    The trouble with all this DPF, is that the lines quickly become blurred (as in Holland), whereby other people, or society in general, starts “deciding” who is worthy, or worthless, and can have their life extinguished. Dr.s in Holland began doing this without consent. Pressure starts to come to bear on the vulnerable. If a “rationale” person is “allowed” to die, its a short leap to saying, why should we deny incompetent people the “right” to “dignity” too, and decide for them.

    The right to life, and the sanctity of human life, is a moral absolute that protects everyone. It has to remain inviolable. Euthanasia erodes this. I do not believe the “liberty” of some killing themselves (they usually ask others to do it for them) overrides the very real dangers this view poses in terms of abuses, shifts in morality that rapidly become a matter of life and death for the most vulnerable, like my mum who is demented.

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  13. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Andrei

    Ignoring for the moment the “forces of progress”, human society has never stood still…..indeed on the odd instances strict conservatism has been enforced the human spirit, sooner or later, breaks free & evolution of social mores resumes.

    The desire for euthanasia to be an option may or may not be the goal of social engineers but the idea resonates with those of us who’s old age is not in the far distant future. If you have visited dementia rest homes or palliative care facilities you may appreciate that not everyone views tomorrow as a gift.

    I’m not & never have advocated for involuntary or state dictated euthanasia…..what I believe is that life is the greatest possession an individual has & it is theirs & theirs alone to decide when it should end.

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  14. mandk (1,033 comments) says:

    @Andrei,
    Sadly, I think you are exactly right.
    It won’t be long before old people are being encouraged to opt for euthanasia (“you’ve had a good innings, love; and you are becoming a bit of a burden, aren’t you?”). And it won’t be all that long before old people are compulsoirly killed.

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  15. Andrei (2,653 comments) says:

    Ignoring for the moment the “forces of progress”, human society has never stood still…..indeed on the odd instances strict conservatism has been enforced the human spirit, sooner or later, breaks free & evolution of social mores resumes.

    True human society has never stood still, if it had we’d still be living in caves but what has happened time and time again is that people have become, rich, comfortable and complacent then the dark times come because the people no longer value nor understand the things that gave them peace and prosperity in the first place and allow them to be torn down.

    The survivors have to rebuild

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  16. wreck1080 (4,001 comments) says:

    Don’t agree.

    Some people go through dark periods and get over it. Should they not be allowed a chance to get through the dark period.

    Should we allow people to commit suicide when they simply become depressed for some reason?

    What about he mentally ill?

    What about cases where family pressure makes someone want to end things?

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  17. seanmaitland (501 comments) says:

    I don’t think it takes any courage to do what these twins have done – the people the article refers to who live happy lives while blind and deaf have amazing reserves of courage.

    Andrei is making the most sense on here. With everything these days, whether it be the minimum wage or the right or ACC cover or whatever, once people get what they want, sooner or later they are wanting more and more, because the status quo is no longer good enough. Its inevitable that once the ball is rolling on this, people will start arguing that people with Alzheimers/Dementia should be euthanised because they aren’t in a fit state of mind. That will be just the tip of the iceberg. If you don’t believe me, I’ve had 2 grandparents die from Alzheimers recently – the way some families treat their parents with this disease is pretty despicable. I can guarantee that what Andrei suggests will happen.

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  18. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    sean

    I’m currently watching my 91 year old mother in the advanced stages of aged related dementia & my former partner died from a series of debilitating strokes last year. In my mother’s case she had indicated that she wants to see it through & even if euthanasia was available & offered the family would respect her wishes. OTOH my ex wife stated that she would curse us from the grave if anything was done to prolong a life she no longer wished to live.

    All of which means nothing except that the person dying is at centre stage & it is their wishes (made in while they are sane & rational) that should matter. It is not your, mine or the state’s right to dictate how long or how short a person’s life should be nor condemn anyone to suffer on ideological grounds.

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  19. seanmaitland (501 comments) says:

    nasska – the problem is that people are going to start pushing for that. My ex-wife’s grandmother had dementia, and her daughter who wanted her inheritance, moved in with her to ‘look after her’, and did stuff like going away for the weekend and leaving her without food to try and get her to die earlier. If euthanasia is legalised whats to stop people coercing, tricking or convincing their family members into signing themselves away?

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  20. greenjacket (486 comments) says:

    Andrei wrote: “The truth is that anybody can end their life any time they want ”
    Except if they are in effect imprisoned in their own bodies (degenerative illness, stroke, injury, whatever) and are unable to end their own lives without assistance.

    There is no “slippery slope” here Andrei. Killing someone in pain who expressly and clearly wishes for it to happen is euthanasia. Killing someone who has not is murder. There is a big and simple difference.

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  21. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Sean

    The instance you gave would be about as bad a case of elder abuse as I have heard of.

    What I have long advocated is for provision for euthanasia to be taken care of in exactly the same way that wills & enduring powers of attorney are handled now. That is, the wishes of the person should be indicated while they are sane & rational in front of a lawyer. If someone is sane enough to dictate the disposal of their estate & their wishes regarding medical intervention then they are sane enough to indicate their instructions re euthanasia.

    My stance is simple…..no prior indication….no euthanasia under any circumstances.

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  22. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    I’m pro- legalised euthanasia…

    But Andrei is correct when he makes the point that a widespread uptake following legalisation, leading to normalisation and societal acceptance of the practise, pretty much inevitably IS going to lead to some old / sick / infirm people feeling pressured into doing it (whether they actually ARE being pressured or not is another matter.)

    It’s not nice but it is something that needs to be taken into account.

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  23. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    The other problem is I can imagine a situation where, in youth, health and comfort, I write in my will that I think I’d want to be euthanised if I was ever hopelessly sick or injured.

    But then, that day comes, and when really faced with my own end, it turns out that I actually DON’T want to die, and I would rather hang in there as long as possible to see what happens – but unfortunately I cannot communicate this to those around me who have my 20-year-old signed request for euthanasia in their hands.

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  24. Pete George (23,833 comments) says:

    RRM – then tough. No system is perfect, and people die in much less ‘fair’ circumstances than that. If you are unable to communicate at all your health would have to be pretty bad.

    You would have the option of stipulating that it must only happen if you reconfirm at or near the time.

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  25. PaulL (5,450 comments) says:

    I think the top of the article understates the situation – it implies that they wanted to be euthanased purely because they are going blind. In actual fact, it sounds like they had multiple health issues and this was the last straw – which is a different thing. I also assume that they were unable to do it themselves, otherwise there would have been no need to go down this path.

    As for slippery slopes – I think there is a small slope, but I also think that the elderly feel pressured today to “end it all.” There is already provision to refuse treatment for various conditions, and to have “do not resuscitate” directives.

    The reality is that we all consume vastly more health services in the last year of our lives (whenever that may be). Or to put it another way, a lot of health system resources are spent on people who are very close to death, and those resources have little chance of saving that person. Conversely, there are other people who don’t receive the treatment they could have where that treatment would have materially improved their quality of life.

    Even though we like to pretend otherwise, we run a rationing system for our tax-funded healthcare. We don’t have limitless money, we need to choose where to spend it. In many countries there is a lot of interest in govt in what is known as advance care directives – basically allowing someone to specify their end of life. Things like an elderly person in an aged care home saying “if I have a stroke, I’d like you to give me pain meds, but I don’t want you to take me to the hospital and do open heart surgery.” If that person has terminal cancer, this may be a rational choice for them, and it is almost certainly much less expensive for the health system. If the money saved can be spent on a hip replacement for someone who is 60 years old, and otherwise cannot walk, that is a net win to the country.

    As always, these issues are complex, but I think it is important that we have the discussion.

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  26. BlairM (2,340 comments) says:

    I am starting to get rather bothered by those who continue to demagogue this issue as one of personal choice. It is not. I have no desire to stop anyone killing themselves. But I do have a problem with others making judgment calls on someone else’s life and their quality of life. I have no problem with you killing yourself. I do have a problem with you asking someone to help you.

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  27. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    BlairM

    Fair enough…..what is your position when, for instance, someone ends up paralysed. Obviously they are unable to shoot themselves or overdose. Indeed under current legislation if someone left a loaded syringe or firearm next to them they would almost certainly be charged with aiding & abetting a suicide.

    Just tell them to suffer & pray?

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  28. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    @PaulL – The original article states they were not terminal and in no pain.

    @iMP – “Dr.s in Holland began doing this without consent” – you are confusing the practise around the world whereby some doctors hasten the end of terminal patients with an overdose, withdrawal of treatment or similar. Dutch Doctors provided information on how frequently this occurred in the early 90s for the Remmelink report in to Euthanasia. This has been picked up by various anti-euthanasia groups as evidence of a slippery slope.

    There is no real research I can find on how common this practise is in countries with legalised voluntary euthanasia and those without. Anecdotally, it seems to occur in many countries.

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  29. Pete George (23,833 comments) says:

    …some doctors hasten the end of terminal patients with an overdose, withdrawal of treatment or similar…

    Anecdotally, it seems to occur in many countries.

    I’ve seen it happen in New Zealand, not with an overdose but with enough to hasten a (comfortable) death.

    I’ve also witnessed a death by the book where drugs were only given once discomfort was obvious (ie already suffering) and it looked a horrible way to go. My last memory is of very distraught eyes.

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  30. Scott (1,808 comments) says:

    Andrei has covered the practical issues quite well. The slippery slope is irrefutable. These brothers are described as not in incurable pain. They just don’t want to live blind and they want someone else to kill them. So it is a step down the slope of death on demand which is precisely where abortion is got to.

    But philosophically if it is your life and you can end it when you like, then it can’t be worth very much. It’s just something you can dispose of at any time. It’s of no intrinsic value outside your own desire to keep it, or not. That’s the natural outworking of the atheist world view. Human life is nothing special.

    What Christianity did was to introduce the concept of humanity being created in the image of God. This means that it was given a higher value than in the pagan world. It also provides some sort of foundation for human rights.

    With the rise of atheism and paganism we are returning to the pre-Christian world of knocking old people on the head once they can’t fend for themselves. So who here would kill their dear old mother if she asked them to do so?

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  31. Pete George (23,833 comments) says:

    So who here would kill their dear old mother if she asked them to do so?

    I would have seriously considered helping my mother make her own choice.

    Human life is nothing special.

    It is and it isn’t.

    Life is special to most of us, and it’s special of those we are close to and love.

    But life is often seen as not special – many a war and many an execution and many a murder are proof of that.

    And ultimately, inevitably, we all die and there is nothing special then, we become a disintegrating non-life like every other once living bunch of biology. Some people have trouble accepting that and create alternatives, more palatable myths. But once we’re dead we’re dead, no matter what our living beliefs were.

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  32. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    Found the 3rd version of the Remmelink report (not done by Remmelink as he’s dead) – they are pretty clear that there is no evidence of the slippery slope over an extended period. They also pour water on several other commonly used arguments against voluntary euthanasia such as lack of palliative care driving people to request death.

    The slippery slope argument looks very refutable.

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  33. Scott (1,808 comments) says:

    So you ok to kill your own mother are you Pete? Just look her in the eye and say, I love you mummy. Then blow her head off with a shotgun? You up for that Pete? Seeing as life is often seen as nothing special. Not to you anyway.

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  34. PaulL (5,450 comments) says:

    Are you working hard to be an idiot Scott, or does it come naturally to you? Have a little sensitivity.

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  35. Scott (1,808 comments) says:

    But that’s what it’s about, surely? Would you kill your own mother, or father? That’s not idiotic Paul. It’s the essence of what is being discussed here.

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  36. PaulL (5,450 comments) says:

    No, it’s not. There’s a big difference between shooting your mother between the eyes and helping her procure drugs so as to exit comfortably, as an example. The way that you’re describing it is overtly emotive, and rude when Pete has just explained that his mother has some health issues and he has considered it.

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  37. Pete George (23,833 comments) says:

    Scott, it is not the essence of what is being discussed here. Did anyone suggest they kill their own mother? You’ve introduced that as an absurd misrepresentation of what’s been said.

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  38. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Scott

    Some could pull the trigger….most couldn’t & I would suggest that few would be asked to. Since there’s differing views within the medical profession I would think that some would see an instance of euthanasia as an act of mercy & act accordingly….others would refuse. I would point out that there has been a similar discussion in the past on this forum about a instance where the doctor in charge of a patient dying of cancer refused proper pain relief on the basis of his/her religious beliefs.

    In any case it is of little relevance on a thread discussing the legality of the act of euthanasia.

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  39. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    “So you ok to kill your own mother are you Pete? Just look her in the eye and say, I love you mummy. Then blow her head off with a shotgun?”

    Talking personally, having seen my mother die in huge pain and discomfort from cancer and pleurisy I would have done that if she had wanted it. In a painless and restful manner, obviously.

    Frankly, not doing it would be cruel if that was her wish.

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  40. Scott (1,808 comments) says:

    Look your mother, or father reckons they want to die. Sure you can give them pills, or shoot them in the head, or bop them on the head with a club the way the comanche used to do. But that is only the method. The essence of it remains. You think it’s okay to kill your own parents, as long as they are okay with it. I just think it’s barbaric. You think it’s enlightened.
    Just remind me again, how is killing your parents not murder?

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  41. nasska (12,111 comments) says:

    Scott

    …..”You think it’s okay to kill your own parents, as long as they are okay with it”…..

    Is it okay to kill your parents….in normal circumstances the answer is obviously no & a charge of murder would be appropriate. But if they ask you to help release them from a life of pain then you are assisting a suicide.

    In the absence of a convincing argument to the contrary you are relying on emotion for a win.

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  42. MT_Tinman (3,322 comments) says:

    I’m getting fairly long in the tooth.

    At least once a week an old person tells me “Never get old.”. They mean it.

    I seriously hope that as soon as I become completely useless (at the moment I’m still a good bad example) someone puts me down.

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  43. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    The sky fairy of love & compassion does not want us mere mortals meddling in his plans for some of us to die painful and frightening deaths huh Scott?

    Fuck me, what a sick joke the christian religion is…

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  44. Griff (8,419 comments) says:

    Having seen my mother suffer for two years
    I too agree with PG sometimes murder is a better option.

    I have seen so called compassionate people do the same with their pets. Keep them alive despite their obvious distress and poor quality of life.
    Many confuse their own inability to deal with a loved ones death with the best out come for that loved one.

    If we had sensible legislation to deal with personal death.
    Would I do it : No to squeamish. Would I ask a doctor to do it: yes

    Does euthanasia happen now : yes doctors do it now leaving them exposed to a charge of murder.

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  45. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    Blair: I am starting to get rather bothered by those who continue to demagogue this issue as one of personal choice. It is not. I have no desire to stop anyone killing themselves. But I do have a problem with others making judgment calls on someone else’s life and their quality of life. I have no problem with you killing yourself. I do have a problem with you asking someone to help you.

    Why…? Its a trade….like any other in the market of life..

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  46. KevinH (1,257 comments) says:

    @seanmaitland said:

    “I don’t think it takes any courage to do what these twins have done – the people the article refers to who live happy lives while blind and deaf have amazing reserves of courage.”

    I totally agree with that sentiment, the courage and determination exhibited by those with sight and hearing impairments is truly inspiring. Certainly it is a challenging handicap that requires considerable adjustment, but is not worth killing yourself over. Ask any person dying of terminal cancer what the most precious gift is in this world and they will tell you , it is the gift of life. Many cancer sufferers go to extraordinary lengths to seek a cure, to get some extra time.
    In the case of these twin brothers, despite the emotive spin, it’s still plain old suicide.

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  47. iMP (2,457 comments) says:

    Once you shift the goal posts on this, we will get terrible life and death tragedies and there will be abuses with people’s lives. Even we commenting in here cannot agree, so how can we legislate the killing of others when all the arguments FOR euthanasia are so debatable and challengeable? This IS a slippery slope, because we all start deciding who can or cannot be exterminated, for whatever reason. Once we get there, we all become subject to other people’s moral or social judgments (“well she’s old, in pain, can’t get about…time to go.”) The sanctity of human life protects all of society.

    If we can’t feed thousands of starving Ethiopians who will die of hunger during a famine, should we kill them to relieve suffering? See how this works…?

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  48. kiwi in america (2,314 comments) says:

    A vexed issue. I can only add my own family’s experience. My mother suffered a relapse in her breast cancer after what we thought was successful chemo and radiation therapy. The cancer had spread to other parts of her body and she died a slow and rather painful miserable death weighing only 35 kgs at her death and with various parts of her flesh rotting away. Pain management wasn’t as good in the early 90’s as it is now so, despite high doses of morphine, she suffered in considerable pain at times. We asked Mum once if she wanted us to ‘accidentally’ overdose her (a time honoured secret form of euthanasia) and she gave us a remarkable answer. She said “why – for I have learned far more in the last 6 months of my life than the rest of my life put together”. She clarified what she meant – it was that in her pain and suffering her finer senses and attitudes had been perfected, refined and enlarged. Her capacity to love was enhanced, her ability to connect with others and thus guide them for the better was heightened. And as I reflected on those difficult months (and believe you me they were very difficult for us all), caring for her and being with her and listening to her talk and witnessing some remarkable experiences with her and her friends, I personally became an infinitely better, kinder, less selfish and more compassionate person and these changes have stayed with me. Indeed for all her children her dying was literally life changing. Had she or us been impatient for her death, we and she would’ve been robbed of priceless experiences.

    Some families are less patient and selfish children, impatient to obtain their inheritance or be released from the burden of care even just the emotional burden of someone dying even when there is good care, may use new provisions in so-called enlightened euthanasia laws to hasten the death of a loved one. This appears to be the case sometimes in Holland where such laws have been in force for a few years now. Is the price of a few premature deaths borne out of selfishness and impatience the price society must pay for others whose case to die seems so much more clear cut and obviously compassionate? For me it is not.

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  49. ChardonnayGuy (1,232 comments) says:

    One question for the anti-euthanasia contingent here- do you think social inequality affects access to palliative care?

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