By Michael Cook
At least 50 patients are euthanased each year for purely psychiatric reasons, says the leading figure in Belgian euthanasia, Dr. Wim Distelmans. In an interview in the Belgian magazine Humo, he says:
Manic-depressive patients, in their manic moments, are capable of doing the most improbable things: plundering their bank accounts, staying for weeks in five-star hotels, buying several cars in a single day. At that stage they are not mentally competent, obviously. But in moments of depression, exhausted … they are certainly competent. Then they can say, for example: “I have lived through crazy highs and lows for 30 years; I’ve tried everything to break that infernal cycle, including psychiatric hospitals, but now I’m back on the baseline, and I know I have a few weeks left before I’m sinking into the depths or rising to heights.”
These are people who are eligible for euthanasia.
This is a small group – 50 to 60 patients – but it is not negligible number: 2 to 3 percent of the 1,924 people who were euthanased last year. Usually they are not old, but they have suffered for a long time. They feel that they are no longer comfortable in this world: “All my relationships have failed.” They are in their 20s or 30s; they have been followed medically since they were children; they have a history of institutionalization. Their parents were originally radically against euthanasia, but eventually they agreed with it because nothing more could be done…
We insist that the euthanasia occurs in the presence of the family. That is comfortable for the patient, and it makes it easier for the family later on. They know it was what the patient wanted.
But a lot of psychiatric patients come from dysfunctional families and veto the presence of certain family members because “They are the cause of my misery.” You should respect that.
Dr. Distelmans feels that euthanasia (Levensbeëindiging Op VErzoek) is a form of love, as this stylized photo from the Belgian media shows: a silhouette of Distelmans’s familiar profile, with the Dutch word forming the English word “love”.
Editor’s note. This appeared at bioedge.org and is reprinted with permission.