Another week… another example of how physician-assisted suicide targets the vulnerable. This time: Asperger’s patients.
In 2010, 38-year-old Tine Nys was one of approximately 1,000 people euthanized in Belgium. Nys was not suffering from a terminal illness. In fact, she wasn’t sick at all.
As I’ve mentioned before on BreakPoint, despite how it’s sold around the world, inevitable death isn’t a requirement for euthanasia in Belgium. The standard for eligibility is “unbearable and untreatable suffering,” which has come to include psychological suffering. Between 2005 and 2014, 124 people diagnosed with a “mental and/or behavioral disorder” were euthanized in Belgium. These included conditions such as depression and dementia.
But in Nys case, it’s wasn’t even clear she was “suffering” at all, much less in an “unbearable and untreatable” sense. Nys had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism.
Asperger’s is characterized by, among other things, difficulty in social situations and restricted interests. It’s also characterized by “remarkable focus and persistence,” “attention to detail,” and an aptitude for recognizing patterns.
If that doesn’t sound especially unbearable, you’re correct. And many people agree. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel has called Asperger’s a possible “big advantage” in places like Silicon Valley. In fact, the person who helped me write this commentary will tell you that he displays more than a few Asperger’s characteristics, and he and I both will tell you that those characteristics help him do the amazing job he does.
If all that was “wrong” with Nys was Asperger’s, then even under Belgium’s absurdly lax standards, her request for euthanasia should not have been approved. And so her family filed a criminal complaint against the doctors who approved her request.
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Here’s the good news: the head of Belgium’s euthanasia review commission announced he would no longer accept patients referred by Nys’s psychiatrist, Lieve Thienpont, who, by the way, partially justified Nys’s death by referring to her family as “seriously dysfunctional, wounded, (and) traumatized… with very little empathy and respect for others.”
Still, this is too little, too late. As early as 2015, Belgian doctors were aware of “the high number of requests that this psychiatrist fielded and how many of them were approved.”
Here’s more good news: in late November, Belgian officials opened a criminal investigation into this psychiatrist, and into two other doctors concerning the circumstances of Nys’s death.
The bad news is this will do nothing to roll back Belgium’s culture of death. After all, Thienpont isn’t the only Belgian doctor approving requests for euthanasia from people whose “unbearable and untreatable” condition is simply psychological or even autism. She’s simply the doctor most associated with a practice the New York Post called “controversial” and “hotly debated.” That’s not the same thing as illegal.
The case of Tine Nys is more evidence that talk about protecting vulnerable people from euthanasia once the cat is out of the bag is just that, talk. Since 2002, more than 10,000 people have been euthanized in Belgium, and before Thienpont, only one other case was referred to prosecutors and that one was eventually dropped.
Once you concede that some lives are not worth living, then the criteria for what “not worth living” means will inevitably expand. Euthanasia isn’t nor has it ever been about alleviating suffering. It’s about personal autonomy, the “right” to live or die as you choose, and the advancement of a culture of death.
After all, it only took Belgium eight short years to go from euthanizing terminal cancer patients to killing people whom, under different circumstances, might be working in Silicon Valley.
Or for that matter, writing for BreakPoint.