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Twins euthanized, sparking debate

Marc and Eddy Verbessem, euthanized on Dec 2012 under Belgian law. Source: Google creative commons

Marc and Eddy Verbessem, euthanized on Dec 2012 under Belgian law. Source: Google creative commons

Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering.

On the 14th of December 2012, 45 year old Belgian twin brothers were euthanized under Belgian law.

The brothers were born deaf and asked to be euthanized after finding out that they would soon go blind. The brothers could only communicate with a special sign language, and feared that they would lose their independence without hearing and sight.

Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, and required the pair to convince a doctor and judges that they were suffering unbearable pain. This was an unusual case as the twins were not in physical pain or terminally ill. The brothers did however suffer from spinal and heart disease, as well as their vision due to glaucoma. The twins’ older brother defended them by stating:

Many will wonder why my brothers have opted for euthanasia because there are plenty of deaf and blind that have a ‘normal’ life. But my brothers trudged from one disease to another. They were really worn out.

After gaining the support from their local doctor, it took the twins two years to find a medical institution to administer a lethal injection. Despite voluntary euthanasia being legal in Belgium, the twins were turned down by many hospitals – including their local hospital.

Today, voluntary euthanasia is illegal in all states and territories of Australia. The Northern Territory in Australia was the first place in the world to pass ‘The Rights of the Terminally Ill’ act in 1995, but this legislation only lasted nine months before being overturned by Australian Federal Parliament.

A recent survey displayed that the majority of Australians believe that they should have the option. The Australia Institute data, released in November 2012, revealed that 70.6 % of Australians believe that a doctor should be allowed to end the life of a person experiencing “unrelievable and incurable suffering”.

This support for euthanasia shows that people want to have the option, but regulation is key. In Luxembourg, euthanasia was legalized in 2009, and each case is to be brought forward to 2 doctors and a panel of experts who will decide if the patient meets the requirements for voluntary euthanasia. This regulation could be what Australia needs to ensure the rights of the terminally ill are honoured, and not abused.

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