Monday, December 11

Elderly couple to die together by assisted suicide


Anne, 86, and her husband Francis, 89, decided that life in a care home was not an option because of their fear they would end up bedridden without the strength to insist on euthanasia. Photo is taken from the Daily Mail Online.

Anne, 86, and her husband Francis, 89, decided that life in a care home was not an option because of their fear they would end up bedridden without the strength to insist on euthanasia. Photo is taken from the Daily Mail Online.

An elderly husband and wife have announced their plans to die in the world’s first ‘couple’ euthanasia – despite neither of them being terminally ill, reports the Daily Mail Online.

Instead the pair fear loneliness if the other one dies first from natural causes.

Identified only by their first names, Francis, 89, and Anne, 86, they have the support of their three adult children who say they would be unable to care for either parent if they became widowed.

The children have even gone so far as to find a practitioner willing to carry out the double killings on the grounds that the couple’s mental anguish constituted the unbearable suffering needed to legally justify euthanasia.

The couple, from Brussels, are receiving regular medical treatment for age-related ailments.

Francis has received treatment for prostate cancer for 20 years and is unable to spend a day without morphine and Anne is partially blind and almost totally deaf.

They always go out shopping together because they are both scared that one day the other will not return home.

They decided that life in a care home was not an option because of their fear they would end up bedridden without the strength to insist on euthanasia.

They are also afraid that a good retirement home would cost more than their combined pensions and that they would have to dig into their savings to afford it.

They planned to commit suicide on February 3 next year, their 64th wedding anniversary, by placing plastic bags over their heads after taking an overdose of sleeping pills.

‘We want to go together because we both fear of the future,’ said Francis. ‘It’s as simple as this: we are afraid of what lies ahead.

‘Fear of being alone and above all, fear of the consequences of loneliness.’

He told Moustique, a Belgian online news service, that they eventually opted for euthanasia because they were too scared to attempt to commit suicide.

‘It takes courage to jump from the 20th floor and I am unable even if I wanted to do it,’ said Francis.

‘It takes courage to hang, it takes courage to jump into the canal. But a doctor who makes you a shot and lets you gently fall asleep? It does not take courage.’

Their son, John Paul, 55, approached their doctor to request their euthanasia – which was legalised in Belgium in 2002 – but the doctor refused because there were no grounds for it.

John Paul found another doctor willing to perform the killings in an unnamed hospital in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium in which 82 per cent of euthanasia cases are performed.

Francis said he and Anne were grateful for the arrangement. ‘Without our son and our daughter, it would never have succeeded,’ he said.

‘We are not sad, we are happy,’ he continued. ‘When we were told we could leave life together smoothly we were on a little cloud. It was as if we had spent all that time in a tunnel and suddenly we came into the light again.’

The couple’s daughter has remarked that her parents are talking about their deaths as eagerly as if they were planning a holiday.

John Paul said the double euthanasia of his parents was the ‘best solution’.

‘If one of them should die, who would remain would be so sad and totally dependent on us,’ he said. ‘It would be impossible for us to come here every day, take care of our father or our mother.’

The double euthanasia will not be first in Belgium, a country where an average of five people a day die by lethal injection.

In 2012 deaf twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem, 45, were granted their wish to die after they learned they would likely to become blind.

Mental anguish is also increasingly being used as a justification for the procedure with one of the most sensational cases involving transsexual Nancy Verhelst, 44, killed by lethal injection after doctors botched her sex change operation.

Earlier this month Frank Van Den Bleeken, a rapist and murderer, became the first prisoner to successfully argue for the right to die by euthanasia on the grounds that his mental anguish meant that he was suffering.

Nonetheless, the Belgian couple’s plan for a double death has shocked opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the UK where Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill reaches committee stage in the House Lords in November.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, who investigated euthanasia for a parliamentary inquiry, said: ‘This is an example of a very dangerous use of euthanasia in entirely inappropriate circumstances.

‘What it demonstrates is that the most stringent safeguards would be needed if this was going to be legalised in the UK.’

Liz Carr, the actress who plays disabled forensics technician Clarissa Mullery in BBC1’s Silent Witness, said the casual practice of euthanasia in Belgium had developed from a law designed initially for hard cases.

‘Once you allow a doctor to assist you to end your life when the patient defines when they are suffering I think you are opening the door to an extension of that law,’ she said.

‘It may be everyone’s intention that initially it will be only for a small group of people but how you monitor that and how you enforce that is practically impossible.’

‘It is terrifying where this could go,’ she added.

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick of Not Dead Yet UK, a network of disabled people against euthanasia, said death in Belgium was now regarded ‘as lightly as stepping off a bus’.

‘The pro-euthanasia lobby says there is no extension from terminally ill candidates yet everywhere we turn in Belgium non-terminally ill people are being euthanised.’

Dignity in Dying which is campaigning for a change in British law, has dismissed fears that Lord Falconer’s Bill might lead to similar horrors.

It insists that the Bill is based on a safer model of assisted suicide ‘which has been working safely for over 17 years and has never been extended beyond the criteria of terminal illness’.