By Kaitlyn Schaeffer
Following a Dateline Documentary that aired in September 2015, Belgium’s struggle with its controversial euthanasia legislation has exploded. The law allows people to voluntarily have their lives ended by doctors even when they’re not terminally ill, so long as they are experiencing “incurable, unbearable suffering.” Since the law was passed, the number of patients seeking death for mental suffering has skyrocketed. Even children can elect to end their lives under this legislation.
“Euthanasia and assisted dying increasingly are being used for patients that have months or years or even decades to live,” explain those against the legislation; they believe the laws are encouraging euthanasia when it’s not the only option, and a lack of adequate safeguards propels unnecessary deaths.
The Dateline documentary focused on Peter Ketelslegers, a 33-year-old father of two, and Simona de Moor, a physically healthy but heartbroken 85-year-old. Both of them wish to die. Peter suffers from severe cluster headaches; he experiences the headaches, which feel like “a knife being stuck in [his] head” several times a day, with each headache lasting for several hours. He has tried many different treatments, including brain surgery, to no avail. “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone… I should take care of the children rather than them taking care of me, but I can’t,” he says. Simona is suffering in a different way – unable to accept the sudden death of her daughter, she has lost the will to live. “It’s driving me mad and I don’t want to go to a mad house, I want to die here.”
Simona’s physician, Dr. Van Hoey, is one of Belgium’s most vocal euthanasia advocates. “A lot of elderly people are not really suffering in the narrow sense of the word, but one plus one plus one plus one… that in addition to their age gives them no future, there is nothing left anymore, and so quite often they say, I’ve had it with my life.”
However, following the broadcast of the documentary, Simona’s case is up for judicial review, and Dr. Van Hoey might face criminal charges. No case has been reviewed since the practice was legalized in 2002.
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