Hazel McHaffie

Be careful what you wish for

Well, my latest novel, Over my Dead Body, has finally left my safekeeping and gone out into the big old world for review. It’s always painful to make that leap. As the adage goes, Perfection is always one more draft away, and I could tweak for ever. But there comes a point where you have to say enough’s enough and let it fly the nest.Manscript of Over My Dead Body

However, the characters are still very much living here with me. I keep waking at 4 or 5 in the morning and listening in to their conversations.¬† And I confess I have sneaked back to the manuscript several times and changed the odd thing or two. So I’ve decided to give myself a new deadline and a new task to try to break the cycle: get all my folders (containing information for other novels) up to date by the end of this week. And that’s where today’s topic came crashing in. A disturbing story from the week’s papers.

The first headline jumped out at me: Belgian twin brothers choose euthanasia rather than blindness. Assisted death’s one of my pet subjects, as you know. The second headline ran: Euthanasia twins ‘had nothing to live for’. Marc and Eddy Verbessem were 45 years old, both cobblers in Antwerp, who’d lived together all their lives. They were both born deaf, and developed their own form of communication. They also suffered from a whole range of other genetic medical problems.

Now, just in case you hadn’t realised, Belgium is one of those countries where euthanasia is allowed if those requesting it are able to make a sustained and competent case for it, and if a doctor judges that they’re in unbearable pain. That’s been the case since 2002. But … neither of the twins was terminally ill; neither was in extreme pain. They’d sought death because they’d now found out they would soon go blind. They couldn’t bear the thought of being unable to see each other again, and losing their independence. Think about it for a minute. Is that adequate justification for killing two middle aged men, d’you think? Would you do it?

The Swiss position, which we hear much more about, is different. There the patient must be able to take the lethal dose themselves – assisted suicide. Would you find this alternative more acceptable?

The Verbessem brothers’ local hospital turned down their application for euthanasia. Indeed it took them almost two years to find any institution that would administer the lethal injection. Two years!¬†Imagine what that was like. The doctor who eventually agreed considered that there was ‘unbearable psychological suffering’, (a subjective assessment to some extent at least) and the deed was finally carried out on 14 December.

I read on. And found a chilling additional note in the article: ‘Just days after the twins were killed by doctors, Belgium’s ruling Socialists tabled a legal amendment that will allow the euthanasia of children and Alzheimer’s sufferers’ … ‘to take better account of dramatic situations and extremely harrowing cases.’

What would you say to that?

Not every one agrees even in Belgium. Last December the European Institute of Bioethics based in Belgium published a report that expressed concern about the absence of effective controls. It notes that over a period of 10 years and 5,500 cases of euthanasia, not one had been referred to the police for investigation. They fear the interpretation of what is allowed is spiralling out of control. What would you say?

We so often skim articles and books picking up the main thread but not pausing to consider the reality or consequences of what we’ve been told, and I was in danger of doing exactly that with this story. But the more I read the more I was challenged. So the thought for the day on my perpetual calendar was particularly apposite: Readers are plentiful; thinkers are rare. (It’s from Harriet Martineau – a Victorian writer and social theorist of some repute, in case you haven’t heard of her.)

This snippet certainly made me think.

(Apologies if you have more accurate knowledge from the inside; I could only go by what was reported in several papers and on the net. Don’t hesitate to correct me if you know better.)



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4 Responses to “Be careful what you wish for”

  • Alex says:

    And these people are in charge of europe? Brussles being the european axis of ‘power’. In my humble opinion, that’s a bit scary.

    • Hazel says:

      Thanks, Alex. I haven’t seen Belgium’s approach to euthanasia being used in any arguments against the UK remaining in Europe. Should it be?

  • Lily Crawford says:

    Two phrases worry me – ” concern about the absence of effective controls ” and ” euthanasia of children and Alzheimer’s sufferers ” .
    Hopefully effective controls will eventually be in place . Children and Alzheimers sufferers are groups of society who cannot make their own decisions . I’ll keep thinking !

    • Hazel says:

      Which is why the article brought me up short, too, Lily. Just where do we draw the lines? When does unbearable suffering start and end? At what point does someone become competent or incompetent to make autonomous choices? Whose life is it? What kind of a society do we want for our children and grandchildren? Big questions. Not many black and white answers.

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