I have written frequently about how euthanasia has become a “cure” for the mentally ill wanting to commit suicide in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland (soon in Canada).
Now, a study in the British Medical Journal discusses the euthanasia requests of 100 mentally ill patients–and the medicalized killings of 35–in Belgium. It makes for awful reading.
First, what constitutes unbearable suffering is whatever the patient says it is, meaning there is no objective standard. From the study:
‘Unbearable’ suffering can be understood as a subjective term. By its nature, the extent to which the suffering is unbearable must be determined from the perspective of the patient himself or herself, and may depend on his or her physical and mental strength and personality. According to the Law, a physician has to come to a level of mutual understanding with the patient about the extent of his or her unendurable suffering.
The kinds of illnesses included autism!
Most of the patients suffered from a treatment-resistant mood disorder (n=58, including 48 with major depressive disorder and 10 with bipolar disorder) and/or a personality disorder (n=50), while 29 patients had both.
Other psychiatric diagnoses included post-traumatic stress disorder (n=13), schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders (n=14), anxiety disorders (n=11), eating disorders (n=10), substance use disorders (n=10), somatoform disorders (n=9), pervasive developmental disorders (n=8; including 7 with Asperger syndrome—an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—and 1 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), obsessive– compulsive disorders (n=7), dissociative disorders (n=7) and complicated grief (n=6), among others.
In addition to their psychiatric disorder(s), 23 patients also had somatic illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome and/or fibromyalgia (n=8), or other chronic somatic suffering (n=15).
More than 1/3 of those asking to be killed were euthanized. And most who weren’t killed lived because they changed their minds. Had they not, the toll would have surely been much higher.
And this is particularly disturbing: Many families went along, creating a further inducement to the mentally ill to be killed:
Among the 35 patients in this study who died by euthanasia, 28 died in domestic surroundings and 7 in a clinical setting.
Thirty of these patients died with family and/or friends present, in a serene and positive atmosphere, which would have been impossible to attain in the case of unassisted, traumatic suicide. Patients and relatives report their experience of euthanasia as a more humane death than suicide, and they expect a less difficult period of mourning.
Bereavement after the suicide of a relative or significant other entails an emotional turmoil that may last a long time, and, in some cases, may end with the mourner’s own suicide.
The idea that mentally ill people are doing their families a favor by being killed–because that’s what is really going on here–is a cultural Siren song, making suicide even harder to resist.
Indeed, one could say it pushes the mentally ill toward believing they have a moral duty to die. When doctors and family validate self-destruction, it must be the right thing to do!
I would note that 20 of most of these patients were killed by non mental health specialists: In this regard, I would remind readers that an oncologist euthanized Tom Mortier’s mother, Godelieva De Troyer–and the first he heard about the planned death was when the hospital call him to pick up her body from the morgue!
There was once a saner time when the prospect of psychiatrists and other doctors systematically killing the mentally ill suicidal would have caused widespread outrage as a profound human rights violation.
No longer. Today, killing is seen as a “treatment” for suicidal desire.
That the BMJ would publish such a coolly analytical article about killing the mentally ill shows that we are truly in the age of terminal nonjudgmentalism.