Thursday, June 18, 2015

Belgian newspaper defends death doctor - Wim Distelmans

This article was published on the HOPE Australia website.

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell
Vice Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition - International

We reported recently about the excellent expose written by Rachel Aviv and published in the prestigeous The New Yorker journal.

Written around the story of Tom Mortier and the euthanasia death of his mother who was not ill but, rather living with depression, Aviv adds skillfully the details and comments from two other Belgians who also lost mothers to euthanasia in similar circumstances to Mortier.

The New Yorker does not engage in 'click bait' cheap journalism. Moreover, with such a detailed article on such a sensitive subject, their 'fact checking unit' will surely have examined Aviv's offering thoroughly before publication. That in itself is reason enough to consider the article in full - even if the reader is unsure or supportive of euthanasia in theory.

The truth, as Aviv uncovers, is that theory and practice in Belgium are miles apart. Any wonder that the expose on the main characters involved in these euthanasia deaths has touched a raw nerve. Never fear: the Dutch-language Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, has jumped to the defence!

Professor Tom Mortier
De Morgen gives voice to the two medicos involved in the three deaths; Wim Distelmans in two cases and neurologist, Peter De Deyn. Both are dismissive of The New Yorker report but neither offer anything more than oblique criticism and, interestingly, neither mention Tom Mortier and the death of his mother.

Consider also that both cases involving Distelmans have been the subject of official complaints; so subjudicy is not the consideration here.

De Deyn accuses his complainant of seeking notoriety; Distelmans accuses the journalist of sensationalism and that's about it.

The most telling comment comes from Distelmans: "Choosing euthanasia is a fundamental human right" he tells De Morgen. This not only casts Distelmans et al falsely as champions of human rights, it also explains to anyone who takes a moment to think about it, why euthanasia in Belgium is now a free for all.

If it is a 'fundamental human right', then who can argue with any supposed exercise of personal autonomy, regardless of the human suffering transferred to other family members such as Tom, his wife and children? If it is a 'fundamental human right' what possible reason could anyone offer to limit its application?

Tom Mortier's mother.
Make no mistake, De Morgen's apologia points clearly to the fact that The New Yorker article has pricked the soft and sensitive underbelly of this dark, macabre practice.

In a reply also published in De Morgen, Professor of Ethics at Antwerpen, Willem Lemmens, says that Aviv and The New Yorker have done the Belgian people a favour in 'holding up a mirror' to their euthanasia practice, implicitly suggesting that Belgians should not be afraid to be self-critical; to self-reflect.

But not so those medicos who are wedded to the project. Of them Lemmens is most critical when he lists their stock responses to criticism (google translate):
"Physicians who are in favor of euthanasia minimize the stories. It would go to a negligible minority. Legal and clinically speaking, there is nothing even missed. Their patients were suffering unbearable. There was no prospect of a cure. She wanted to die. The doctors themselves proceed very carefully. They always do that anyway. The children who have the courage to testify about something as intimate as the death of their mother, be suspicious here and there made ​​as psychologically unstable. These are serious allegations, which there is no indication. Moreover it reflects a pervasive lack of empathy. Strange for doctors who see euthanasia as an act of compassion. The story of Tom, Margot, Kerstin should encourage reflection."
This reflection is sorely needed, as Michael Brendan Dougherty observed in The Week:
"Belgium's humanism is inventive at coming up with reasons to die — anorexia and chronic fatigue among them — but what it needs is a reason to live, today and in the future."

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