Just as you thought you heard it all, Kelly, a 23-year-old physically healthy woman who lives in Leuven Belgium, has asked to die by euthanasia (lethal injection) for psychiatric reasons.
In an interview with Ian Birrell, for the Daily Mail, Kelly speaks about seeking euthanasia for psychological pain, even though experts agree that young people will often get better with treatment. Birrell reports:
Many psychiatrists and most Belgians oppose extension of euthanasia to mental health cases. Some experts argue diagnosis is subjective, unlike severe physical illness, and insist the lives of distressed younger patients can improve with time, therapy and medication.
Yet Kelly, whose birthday is this week, plans to die as soon as legally possible so has no time for such arguments. ‘It feels like discrimination,’ she said. ‘It makes me angry. It’s just not fair. They don’t understand the pain.
‘People look at me and see someone so young but I feel bad inside all the time. It is not the age that is important but the suffering of the person.’
Kelly has an identical twin sister who will suffer greatly if Kelly dies by euthanasia. Birrell explains that Kelly had not yet told her family her plan to die by euthanasia.
Kelly lives with her family near Leuven – yet incredibly had not told her parents, identical twin sister or younger sibling of her plan. She was due to break the news to them four days after our discussion, something she admitted she was dreading.
‘It is not going to be easy to tell them. I think my sisters will understand more than my parents. But it will obviously be very difficult, especially for my twin sister.’
The reason for her failure to tell her family soon becomes clear. She is fond of her father, a salesman, but said her relationship with her mother, a former cleaning lady, was very difficult, leaving her feeling unloved and insecure at home.
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Kelly, who met her boyfriend Bregt while attending group sessions, is living with psychological pain. She has attempted suicide, been hospitalized, has eating disorders and self-harms, but many people live with similar psychological pain. Birrell reports:
She decided to apply for euthanasia after learning it was lawful and possible from a psychologist in the hospital.
‘I felt ‘yes’,’ she said, pumping her fist as she recalled the moment. ‘I immediately went and looked up all the information I could find.’
To win the right to die, Kelly – who has been unable to work since leaving school beyond a bit of babysitting – needs backing from two psychiatrists and one other doctor. They must agree her mental pain is unbearable and untreatable.
She applied seven months ago and is being assessed by Joris Vandenberghe, a local professor who has helped draft stricter rules for psychiatrists amid concerns that some patients died despite treatment options being available.
Birrell then tells us about Dr Joris Vandenberghe:
…he recently wrote an academic article admitting that Belgium’s policy was ‘highly controversial and raises difficult ethical and clinical issues’.
He argued its laws had failed to ensure ‘sufficient checks and balances to promote reluctance to act on a patient’s death-wish’, concluding that more investment in mental healthcare could prevent some, but not all, of the demand for euthanasia from distressed patients.
Last year it emerged that three Flemish doctors, including a high-profile psychiatrist accused of being behind almost half the cases of euthanasia for mental health disorders, were being investigated on suspicion of ‘poisoning’ a woman who had autism.
Kelly needs support in living, not euthanasia. Sadly, many people experience psychological suffering but its not a reason to kill. Euthanasia is an abandonment of people at a low time of their life, but euthanasia for psychological reasons is an abandonment of hope.
It is my hope that Kelly finds hope and a purpose to live.