Monday, June 15, 2015

Belgium euthanasia: "Treatment" for Depression.

Alex Schadenberg
By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

A poignant and thorough article has been written by Rachel Aviv and published in the New Yorker magazine titled: The Death Treatment concerning the euthanasia death of Godelieva De Troyer, a healthy Belgian woman who was living with depression.

Euthanasia is sold to the public as way to escape a horrible death. The euthanasia lobby feeds the media with a series of stories of people, who are "terminally ill" and "suffering" and yet euthanasia is not limited to these people, it includes people with depression.

Tom Mortier, De Troyer's son, responded to the euthanasia death of his healthy depressed mother by seeking answers. The New Yorker magazine has produced this indepth article in response.

The article begins by oulining, from De Troyer's diary, that she was being treated for depression since she was 19. She had good days and she had bad days. Many life experiences gave rise to her depression. She divorced early in her marriage, her past husband committed suicide, she had pain from her childhood and more.

She also experienced happiness, from the article:
The happiest time in Godelieva’s life began when she was in her early fifties and had a new boyfriend. She felt as if she had finally moved beyond the dramas of her childhood, an achievement for which she credited her new psychiatrist. “He opens the wound completely, cleans it thoroughly and closes it so it can heal,” she wrote to a friend. Godelieva, who had blond hair and a wistful smile, made many friends during these years. “She was the most beautiful woman,” Tom told me. “People would say to me, ‘Oh, I could fall in love with your mother.’ ” Christiane Geuens, a close friend, said, “People always wanted to know her. When she walked into a room, everyone knew.” 
Godelieva was delighted when Tom and his wife had a child, in 2005. She promised that she would make up for her failures as a mother by being an attentive grandmother. In photographs, she is physically affectionate with Tom’s daughter, holding her as she brushes her teeth, or sitting on the bed with her, braiding her hair.
Her life went into turmoil.
Then, in 2010, her boyfriend broke up with her, and she felt black again. She stopped wearing makeup and doing her hair, and she cancelled dates with friends, she said, because she felt ugly and old. She felt that she had lost... a sense that there is something to live for. Tom was only thirty minutes away, but she no longer had the energy to drive to his house. She accused Tom of being insufficiently sympathetic, and Tom, who had just had a second child, blamed her for abandoning him and his family. After several months of fights, they stopped speaking. In her diary, she wrote, “I don’t think there can be fruitful contact with the children with all his aggression toward me.” Tom’s sister, a lawyer who does human-rights work in Africa, also avoided her; she found it too painful to be sucked back into her mother’s depression, which had dominated her childhood. ...
 The story looks at her relationship with Dr Wim Distelman and the euthanasia clinic.
In the summer of 2011, when she was sixty-three, Godelieva met a new doctor. She attended a lecture by Wim Distelmans, an oncologist and a professor of palliative medicine at the Free University of Brussels. Distelmans was one of the leading proponents of a 2002 law in Belgium that permits euthanasia for patients who have an incurable illness that causes them unbearable physical or mental suffering. Since then, he has euthanized more than a hundred patients. Distelmans, who wears leather coats and boots and artfully tossed scarves, has become a celebrity in Belgium for promoting a dignified death as a human right, a “tremendous liberation,” and he gives talks at cultural centers, hospitals, and schools around the country. 
In September, 2011, Godelieva saw Distelmans at his clinic. Four months later, she sent an e-mail to her children: “I have filed a euthanasia request with Prof. Distelmans based on psychological distress. I have gone through the entire procedure and am now waiting for the result.”
Tom reacted to his mother's email by seeking advice.
Tom and his wife had just had their third child. They both taught chemistry at Leuven University College, part of the oldest university in Belgium. When Tom received his mother’s e-mail, he showed it to his supervisor, Lies Verdonck, a doctor who was familiar with Distelmans’s work, and asked her what to do. She said there was no way that Distelmans would approve the euthanasia request without first speaking with the patient’s family. “Stay focussed on your job and your children,” she urged Tom.
But the advice was wrong, De Troyer died by euthanasia on April 19, 2012.
On April 20, 2012, three months after Godelieva sent the e-mail, Tom received a short letter from his mother that was written in the past tense. She reported that her euthanasia had been carried out on April 19th, at the university hospital of the Free University of Brussels. “I donated my body to science,” she wrote. On the back of the letter, she’d left the phone number of a friend who had the keys to her house. 
Tom immediately drove to the house of the friend, who offered him a drink and then explained that she and her husband had driven Godelieva to the hospital. Tom accused the couple of coöperating with a suicide. They were defensive: they said that it was Godelieva’s choice, and they didn’t want her to have to take a taxi to the hospital alone. Later, they admitted to Tom that in the car Godelieva was chatting and laughing, and they had begun to wonder if they knew her as well as they’d thought.
Tom went to his mother's house.
In his mother’s living room, Tom found an article about Distelmans in De Morgen, a leading Flemish newspaper, which featured a large photograph of him sitting on a bed, wearing jeans, a patterned shirt, and a silver bangle bracelet. The reporter described Distelmans as a doctor who “cannot stand injustice.” Distelmans spoke about his disdain for doctors who assume that they know what their patients need, and told the reporter that the “euthanasia law has such a symbolic value. People have a voice.” 
Tom also discovered a booklet, produced by LEIF (Life End Information Forum), an organization founded by Distelmans, that outlined the medical and legal options available to people who are dying or want to die. On the final page, the authors introduced an excerpt from “Utopia,” by Thomas More, who describes a world in which “officially sanctioned euthanasia is regarded as an honorable death.” In More’s ideal society, government officials and priests visit suffering invalids and say, “Why don’t you break out and escape to a better world?”
The article continues by interviewing Wim Distelmans, Jan Bernheim and other euthanasia doctors. It is clear that the euthanasia philosophy is about ending the life of people based on "human happiness." The expansion of the "accepted" reasons for euthanasia and the expansion in the number of euthanasia deaths is concerning. What began as an exception has become the societal norm.
Last year, thirteen per cent of the Belgians who were euthanized did not have a terminal condition, and roughly three per cent suffered from psychiatric disorders. In Flanders, where the dominant language is Dutch, euthanasia accounts for nearly five per cent of all deaths. (The percentage is lower in the southern, French-speaking parts of Belgium.) The Flemish media have adopted a mostly uncritical approach to euthanasia, running numerous articles about the courage of people who have chosen to die.
Brussels - November 2013
In November 2013, I had the opportunity to debate Jan Bernheim, one of the pioneers of the euthanasia lobby in Belgium. Bernheim spoke about euthanasia as eliminating human suffering. 

I explained how the euthanasia law has expanded and has been abused. The data indicates that nearly half of the assisted deaths are not reported, that 1.7% of all deaths are hastened without request, how nurses are doing euthanasia, even though that is against the law, and more.

Bernheim responded by saying: "there are problems with the Belgian euthanasia law" in which I responded: "that is cold comfort for the dead."

Is there a connection between suicide and euthanasia?
The suicide rate in Belgium (excluding cases of euthanasia) is the second-highest in Western Europe, a phenomenon often attributed to the Flemish personality type known as “binnenvetter,” a person who holds emotions inside. ... 
Neither Tom nor his sister thought that she would have killed herself on her own. She was passive, dependent, and averse to risk. She didn’t like to make a mess. Most of all, she trusted her doctors’ authority. Distelmans was the last in a series of charismatic and accomplished doctors whose theories she had revered. After finding strength in their guidance, she eventually became disillusioned by each treatment. “I can still hardly believe how many amateurs are walking around in this medical field,” she wrote to a friend in the late nineties, after giving up on another therapist.
De Troyer's diary told her story.
When Tom read his mother’s daily planner, he saw that she had met with Distelmans at least six times in the past eight months. Seven weeks before her death, she donated twenty-five hundred euros to LEIF, the organization that Distelmans had founded. On the bank-transfer form she had written, “Thanks to the staff at LEIF.”
Before his mother's death, Tom had never thought much about euthanasia.
Tom had never given much thought to euthanasia, though he was vaguely in favor of it. “Distelmans was just a voice I heard on the radio from time to time,” he told me. Tom was brought up as an atheist, and in school he had studied non-confessional ethics. When the euthanasia law was passed, he and his wife, who were in the same graduate program, had recently fallen in love. They assumed that the law was for old people who were already dying. 
Now it seemed to Tom that there were few people reflecting critically on the law. Three days after his mother’s death, the leading Belgian humanist association named Distelmans one of ten “heroes of self-determination” in the past fifty years, at a celebration for Flemish Heritage Day. When Tom complained to the ombudsman at the hospital of the Free University of Brussels, the ombudsman replied that everything had proceeded according to his mother’s “free will.” ... 
Godelieva’s friend Christiane Geuens told me that she knew that Godelieva was upset about her breakup, but she never imagined that she was considering euthanasia.
The story continues with the human trial that Tom Mortier has lived through as he attempts to challenge the insanity that has developed around the Belgian euthanasia experience. A similar experience in the Netherlands proves that legalizing euthanasia leads to a change in the societal attitude towards causing death, but also a change in the attitude concerning how we treat people at a vulnerable time in their life.


Anonymous said...

I found this article very disturbing. The article tells us that therapy and mental health services are scarce in Beligum. That is where the effort needs to be!

Bren Murphy said...

Wow I did not know this was the way it worked. I am still pro-euthanasia and see it is a real alternative to living way too long when medical treatment keeps our body going but our mind has passed.