Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Depressed woman dies by euthanasia in Belgium.

Professor Tom Mortier
This article was written by Tom Mortier and published on February 4, 2013 by under the title: How my mother died.
A mentally-ill Belgian woman sought euthanasia to escape her problems. The doctors told her, sure, why not?
How my mother died

Since 2002 a law was passed in Belgium that allowed people to be euthanised when they were suffering intractable and unbearable pain. Today euthanasia is more often granted to people suffering from mental illnesses like chronic depression, schizophrenia, chronic anorexia nervosa and borderline personality disorder, etc.

The law requires that a patient’s free decision has to be established before medical doctors can give the lethal injections.

My mother suffered from chronic depression. Two years ago she broke off all contact with me. In April 2012 she was euthanased at the hospital of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (the Free University of Brussels).

I was not involved in the decision-making process and the doctor who gave her the injection never contacted me.

Since then, my life has changed considerably. Up until now, I am still trying to understand how it is possible for euthanasia to be performed on physically healthy people without even contacting their children. The spokesman of the university hospital told me that everything happened according to my mother’s “free choice”. After my mother’s death, I talked to the doctor who gave her the injection and he told me that he was “absolutely certain” my mother didn’t want to live anymore.

The death of my mother has triggered a lot of questions. How is it possible that people can be euthanised in Belgium without close family or friends being contacted? Why does my country give medical doctors the exclusive power to decide over life and death? How do we judge what “unbearable suffering” is? What are the criteria to decide what “unbearable suffering” is? Can we rely on such a judgment for a mentally ill person?

After all, can a mentally ill person make a “free choice”? Why didn’t the doctors try to arrange a meeting between our mother and her children? How can a medical doctor be “absolutely certain” that his/her patient doesn’t want to live anymore? Why can’t we bear to see people suffering?

Some doctors at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel believe that euthanasia should be offered to anyone who wishes to end his/her life because of unbearable and meaningless suffering. All objections and restraints from the community are regarded as immoral and unjustifiable. These doctors are nowadays even discussing euthanasia for people suffering from autism and youngsters who are suicidal.

What scares me is that these doctors also seem to be controlling the Belgium media. Is this the society we want to evolve to? Are we going to control suicides in the nearby future by putting people out of their misery before they can do it themselves -- instead of investing in mental health and palliative care?

I believe that the appeal to “free choice” is becoming a dogma of convenience. We are rapidly changing into a society of absolute loneliness where we don’t want to take care of each other any more. And when we suffer, we ask our doctors to kill us, breaking fundamental biological and human laws. However, by doing this, we create new and insoluble problems.

Therefore, we really should rethink what we believe in. 

Is it life or is it death?

Tom Mortier PhD lectures in chemistry at Leuven University College. This article was written with the assistance of Dr Steven Bieseman and Professor Emeritus Herman De Dijn. It was originally published in the Belgian medical journal Artsenkrant.


Ann said...

Thank you for speaking out, the Doctors should not have such wide powers and I fear for our future. Life is precious and we all should respect it.

Clare said...

Speaking as someone who has suffered from chronic depression for years, this is dangerous. A suicidally depressed person cannot be considered capable of making such an important decision. Depression is a form of madness which makes its victim believe that happiness is impossible, that death is the only way to escape from pain. To deny someone in that condition the possibility of future sanity and enjoyment of life is the height of cruelty.

Anonymous said...

As someone who suffers major depression, it frustrates me that others consider physical pain (cancer etc) a justification for euthanasia, but not mental pain. I recently had a bimalleolar fracture (tib and fib ankle fracture) which was barely felt compared to the everyday pain that depression causes.
4 years ago I made the mistake of indicating suicidal intentions to someone who forwarded that to the police who stopped me. With hindsight, my ability to assess how that person would react was impacted by the severity of the depression at the time (I should not have said anything). Since then I have received the best treatment available but every day is still painful. I have not spent a day grateful that I am still here. It is only because of family’s desire for me to not leave that I am still here. I wish it would be accepted that depression often cannot be fixed with medication or other therapy and is at least as painful as other terminal illnesses.
I agree that for a short period at the time, 4 years ago, I may not have been capable of making a well reasoned request for assisted suicide. However, I am a well paid, supposedly intelligent and competent professional and resent the intimation that after many years of consistent pain I can’t make an informed decision regarding the potential for me to live a worthwhile life. Mental pain can be at least as severe as physical pain and society needs to accept this. It would make it much easier for me to do the best thing for me.

Anonymous said...

Living in America and maybe somewhat sheltered from some of these issues abroad I was appalled to hear that doctors would even consider aiding in the death of an individual as a viable option. I thought that doctors were sworn to try and save lives. Having suffered from clinical depression for over 30 years and trying to commit suicide several times, I understand the pain that these people are talking about. But I am very glad that I was unsuccessful! I know now that there is relief and deliverence from this horribly painful condition. I was put on all different kinds of medications which usually made the depression worse. When I was finally put on Effexor my path back to normalness began. Up until this point I could not make a rational decision about much of anything because the pain of wanting to die was so strong that it colored every decision. I was convinced that my husband and 4 beautiful daughters would be so much better off without me than to have me here and be such a mess. My healing had nothing to do with a changed diet or anything like that. My deliverance came when I met the God of the universe, the God of the Holy Bible, face to face and He told me "I love you so much I died for you." Wow, who on planet earth would die for me? I am sure there would not even be a handful of volunteers. The medication allowed me to think more clearly about everything even my thoughts about the God who said "I love you". As I began my journey with Him and learning more about Him and who He is and who I was in Him I was able to go off all medication. I didn't have to wean myself off either. I was totally delivered! I have been depression free for over 6 years now. It feels so good to have such a great outlook on life. There is only one way to truly be set free from depression and it isn't suicide, which leaves the family devastated, but to be totally set free is to give your life to the only who can fix you because He is your creator. And that is God. Not Allah, Buddah, or any other imitation. There is but one true God of this Universe and His name is "EL", in the Hebrew language. He is truly El Shaddai which simply means God Almighty. That is exactly what He is, MIGHTY! Only El Shaddai can deliver us from depression or any other mental disorder. If you truly want to be delivered please feel free to contact me via my email:

Unknown said...

I have went through 2-Major Depressive episodes plus conintuing Anxiety. I am 50 years old, have seen enough and would like to know that the US Government would Euthanize me in dignigty rather than trying do it myself! When that time domes.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Jeffrey:

The government should not legalize the killing of depressed people who will ask for euthanasia or assisted suicide at their lowest point.

Sue said...

Alex, I feel I must correct you. Severely depressed people don't only want to die at their lowest point, they have no desire to live EVERY day!! I am one of these. I have suffered horrifically with depression for almost 20 does not get better. It only goes on and I feel worse because I see how it has detrimentally affected my daily life. I see that after 20 years, my life is much worse than it was in past years. I stupidly held hope in my heart and trust in the many medications and treatments I have participated in to no avail. I wish I had killed myself early on, but back then I had hope. I have no hope anymore. Why should I not be able to die with dignity? I am now unemployed, I have lived alone much of my adult life; I am witnessing what 'life' I had disintegrate before my eyes. I consider myself sane and would be deemed so in a court of law were I to go out and shoot someone this evening. Bit for some reason I am not allowed to end my suffering because it is mental and not physical??

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Sue:

Your life is worth living. Suicide is not an answer to your problems, but rather your lived experience can help others.

Choose to be a positive example to others. Your life is worth living.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Sue:

Your life is worth living. Suicide is not an answer to your problems, but rather your lived experience can help others.

Choose to be a positive example to others. Your life is worth living.

Anonymous said...

To be quite honest I'm a depressed teen and I wish that my country would do this... call it what you want, I know for a fact I am not happy and the chance of me being happy is pretty slim and you might probably think you are a teenager who doesn't understand blah blah blah... if you heard my hell or was in my position you won't even want to think of living. And before you say life is worth it, what's the point if everyday I'm sad and I swear I have such an irrational and impossible streak of bad luck that being hit by lightning won't surprise me. Every factor of my life is hell, health, finance, relationships.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Anonymous.

Your depression will pass. Suicide, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia are not answers to difficult life problems. Contact a caring suicide prevention organization and find help.

Many people care about you.

Severely Depressed and Not Your Debate Prop said...

As someone who has suffered for a few years with depression which no medication has so far helped, and which no amount of therapy or love from friends and family can seem to impact...I totally understand and respect his mother's decision. If that option was financially feasible to me (I've been unemployed for quite some time as well), I would definitely pursue heading to a country like Belgium that would help me where my own country won't.

I think it's much more dangerous to present neurodiversity/neurodivergence as invalid ways of being/ways of thinking than to avoid that paternalism and give people cordoned off from "normality" their own agency. Medicalizing and pathologizing neurodiversity, I feel anyway, is going to be seen as backwards and horrifying in the same way that medicalizing and pathologizing diversity in sexual orientation or gender identity is now seen (some day, anyway, unfortunately not in my lifetime most likely).

Or people can keep their petty prejudice and fear of the unknown, I guess. It is not unknown to me, and as such I have no fear about it, only what was once an uncertainty becoming gradually more and more certain that this only worsens week to week, and has been doing so for years. To imagine what this will be like even next month is devastating torture for me, much less what it will be like next year, or a decade from now. It's not that I have zero up days, it's that each down is easily 3X-10X down from the last down, and each "up" is only ever worse than whatever the last "up" was. Maybe one day that will change, but like cancer patients who are aware of slim chances of remission and recovery that ultimately make the choice to die with dignity ahead of the apex of suffering...I honestly think that one choice is better than the other for me, personally. Not advocating that everyone with depression should go out and be auto-approved (although, to be honest, I'm also not saying that's such a bad idea necessarily), but I do think that the option should be there for people, and that ableist and mentalist/sanist barriers should not be put in place by people with a privileged point of view about this kind of thing.

Sometimes those who occupy marginalized positions relative to others don't need people less marginalized than themselves to make decisions for them, and that might surprise white racists or male misogynists just as much as it might surprise "sane" and "mentally healthy" people regarding those whose neurochemical soups differ from what is sometimes offensively referred to as the norm or the baseline or what have you. We are not invisible, and we are not incapable of making our own decisions.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same. My mom let herself die and I wasn't informed me either so yes I understand where the author is.coming from. I too suffer severely from depression and I'm thinking assisted suicide is my only way out and yes the pain is there. Please email me if you ever need an ear to hear you out.

Anonymous said...

I have lived with bipolar II disorder for most of my adult life. It has been horrendous, and I've wanted to kill myself several times. Like other commenters here, I tried many different meds, lots of therapy. I also buried myself in my work. It took the right psychiatrist who finally realized I was bipolar II and found the right combination of meds that got me on the road to recovery. The love of my wonderful husband, the love of God, and a great church where I could be real also helped.

I'm so thankful that assisted suicide wasn't available to me during my worst times and that some "doctor" thought that my life wasn't worth living.

I now care for my husband, who has a progressive neurodegenerative illness. I also volunteer as a benefits counselor and tax counselor through my church. I thank God every day for the gift of management of my mental illness and the gift of life.

Alex Schadenberg said...

I am happy that you found help and that you are alive today to tell us of your psychological pain.

Unknown said...

Only the individual herself can say whether her life is worth living. It's impossible for anyone else to perceive.
New Zealand has yet to find the courage to bring in Euthanasia laws, but the pressure's on. I will avail myself of it as I have a chronic health problem and am too tired to deal with it after 52 years of struggle.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Julie:

Euthanasia is not a solitary act, but rather requires another person to give you a lethal injection.

What message would you be sending to others in a similar condition. We cannot separate euthanasia from the social context of how it effects others.

Cireth said...

I'm 24. I suffer from Chronic Depression and Anxiety.

It is tough. Some days it hurts like hell. Some days ending it all feels like the only solution. I've come close once or twice.

However if I did that I would be a coward.

The bad days do not last forever. There are also good days. My depression might last the rest of my life. It might not. I simply don't know.

If it does last for the rest of my life then I will spend the rest of my life fighting it. I will not let a disease kill me off.

I thank God that he has given me one inch of steel in my soul and that inch has been enough to keep me alive when the rest of my strength has failed.

Sahia said...

Ok Alex Schadenberg
I have a big depression since 7 years ago, what should i do? Killing people on the streets? I try to kill Myself couple of time, when i am depressed i am feeling i want to kill the others... Now tell me the choice? Is better to use eutanasy or not? I think is the best way to die ...
Maybe if you will give me 50k euro i will live happy ... You give me this amount?

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Sahia:

Many people experience depression. You need help not death.

If you live in Canada please Your Life Counts can help you.

TrumpLIESDemocracyCRIES said...

I am 53m, severely depressed, PTSD, social phobia, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder and mild autism spectrum disorder. Hospitalized 11 times during past 15 yrs. My depression so far has proven unresponsive to medication. I have experienced prolonged suicidal ideation years at a time, and regularly yearn to be free of this pain.

However, realizing that my attempts at successful treatment has not been entirely exhaustive, so far. I know that there are treatments that I've yet to have the opportunity to try. ECT, VNS, TMS, Tiapeptine, Ketamine Therapy, Cannabis and recently FDA approved medication GLYX-13. GLYX-13 by Naurex is a VERY promising new drug that emerged recently from studying the action of Ketamine in a clinical situation. The new "frontier" in psychoactive remedies for treating chronic depression, glutamate and NMDA receptor binding agonists have not only been shown to have a realistic expectation of up to 70% efficacy, most patients feel better within a few days at the very longest.

This is a miraculous example of a drug that treats severe chronic depression, not seen in over 50 years. Not only have studies shown such amazing efficacy, but data clearly shows that this compound is actually exhibiting neurogenesis—repairative action on the part of the brain that suffers damage from depression, the hippocampus.

Extensive studies and imaging comparisons have long exhibited evidence of sometimes considerable damage and atrophy to the hippocampus part of the brain, as a result of chronic, severe depression. Well, researchers have discovered that drug therapy using compounds containing glutamate actually trigger repairative growth of new begin material, especially in the hippocampal section.

Naurex its expected to release GLYX-13 to the public in the next six months. And given the very impressive background and encouraging trial results, chances are that the 60-75% efficacy results in trials can likely be expected to provide, at the very least, perhaps 50% efficacy, worst case. Hopefully? While no guarantees, I feel it is certainly well worth the wait to try this drug producing results more novel than anything seen in the psychiatry field in fifty years. That's a huge deal.

Clearly, there is a possibility this won't work. There are still other options worth trying that could provide relief from the constant pain of depression. I've listed those I am familiar with available in the USA. Had I already tried these to no avail, I could then consider suicide via euthanasia. My choice. Like midst people who consider suicide, my primary goal would be to simply end suffering, misery and pain. Most share this goal.

I cannot pretend to have the eight to interfere with a person's right to decide when they want to leave this life, but I do feel Ann obligation to make sure I've attempted to make those intent on ending the pain and misery now, who feel they've tried every possible avenue, aware of any possibly unexamined potential remedies available to treat major depression. Of course, in the instance that these candidate remedies are familiar to those intent on ending their lives, I cannot be so arrogant to intrude upon their path by somehow insisting that their assessment and feelings and decision is invalid.

If one has come to the realization that their life holds no value, and that ending it feels right, who am I to claim that I know better?

Mental illness care its a travesty, even in our "so-called" civilized societies. Public perception and treatment of the subject itself, and more sadly, the treatment of those who suffer from these illnesses.

Oftentimes, equally remiss, are many individuals in the health-care industry who fail to recognize the dynamics and pathology associated with the many diagnoses present in today's world.

Tom said...

verve62, you mention the many treatments available for depression. Some you have tried, and some you have yet to try.
Have you tried Jesus?

Unknown said...

People also go to depression because of unplanned pregnancy

Anonymous said...

Nothing but right! It's available for animals, and they can't give their thoughts on the matter. There should be a survey asking why we wish to be 'put under', so the people in charge could use the info to make the world a better place, should they ever stumble across the desire to do so.

leahmarie said...

Hi is it ok to email you? I also have a mental health disorder well four actually bpd; cyclothmia, anxiety and depression. I have also though of assisted suicide or ending my life myself which I know I will feel alot of trauma. Even when I'm in a good mood, i still have a desire to end my life. Yes mental illness is so traumatic compared to physical illness.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Dear Leah Marie:

Please feel free to contact me at at anytime.

Unknown said...

I cry a lot. My emotions are very close to my surface. I don't want to hold anything in so it festers and turns into pus - a pustule of emotion that explodes into a festering cesspool of depression.To know more details:-Don't fight depression alone