The Belgian online news service Moustique (the Mosquito) is featuring an interview with an elderly Belgian couple and their son in which they discuss the couple's plans to die together by euthanasia.
Couple euthanasia is not a new phenomenon. In June 2013 we reported on an eerily similar case of an elderly couple dying together by euthanasia in what can only be concluded as euthanasia for social reasons.
Like the earlier couple, Francis and Anne are both in their 80s and, while they do have health problems, neither is terminally ill. Moustique conducted a long interview with the couple and their son, John Paul and, while we have characterised this article as an advertorial for such actions, contained in the interview are disturbing facts and comments that seem sadly to be accepted as 'normal' in terms of reasons why such a couple would want euthanasia together.
Both Anne and Francis are receiving regular medical treatment for ongoing issues and, as one would expect with advanced age, they clearly recognise their deteriorating health.
They tell Moustique that they had originally planned to die together using 'sleeping pills (and) plastic bag over the head', 'as savages' says Francis. Later in the interview he reflects on the assertion that what he and Anne intend to do 'takes courage' by saying that jumping off a building or hanging would take courage, 'but a doctor who makes you a shot and let you fall asleep? It does not take courage.'
Francis and Anne, as an alternative to the 'savage' death, talked to their children who, quoting Francis, said, 'We will look for a more elegant solution.' And so, as John Paul continues to explain, their son set out to find out how best to help his parents die by euthanasia. Francis later offers his gratitude to John Paul and his sister: 'Our children were helpful. I repeat: without our son and our daughter, it would never have succeeded.'
This is disturbing and raises questions about whether the actions of the children contributed in any way to re-enforce or to pressure Anne and Francis in any way. John Paul's conclusions seem more about his own discomfort and inconvenience:
"I totally understand the attitude of my parents. I support them too, for both them and for us, their children, this is the best solution. If one of them should die, who would remain would be so sad, and totally dependent on us. This may sound ridiculous, but if only a practical standpoint, it would be impossible for us to come here every day, take care of our father or our mother. At one point, the column of negatives - the grief, the pain - is longer than the column positives. This automatically reduces fear to go against the urge to stay. In this case, I can perfectly understand that we say, "It's time.""
Francis, Anne and John Paul characterise their ultimate decision as bringing peace and serenity to their situation. But this is clearly contradicted in a number of significant ways best summarized by Francis:
"That's why we want to go together: because we both fear of the future. It's as simple as this: we are afraid of what lies ahead. Fear of falling alone and above all, fear of the consequences of loneliness. The future can bring us misfortune."
Though the daughter is not given any voice in the interview, it is clear from the son, John Paul's comments that the children basically confirmed these fears by supporting their desire for death by euthanasia. The fears themselves are quite normal, but this family collectively threw up the white flag of surrender. That the children appear to have been willing accomplices showing, as far as we can tell, no resistance or suggestion of alternative, is unconscionable.
Consider also the reasons given by Francis and Anne which are partly personal fears and partly about a false altruism. Not wanting to 'watch the slow decline of a partner'; fear of going to a nursing home; 'too many people on this earth'- making more pension money available for others; not wanting to 'dig into our savings' and not being able to do the things they could at an earlier age. Add this to John Paul's clear point that he didn't want to look after them, and it's almost a 'perfect storm' of lack of imagination, lack of a willingness to care and to look towards other alternatives.
There is also an insidious cultural side to this affair evident in the reporting at Moustique. There is no alternate voice here; no suggestion that promoting this story might have a deleterious effect upon others. No help lines promoted, no questioning in any constructive way. The social question, as always, is about the cart and the horse - is the media effectively pushing the issue or is it, as it may claim, simply reflecting the vox populi?
This is not a 'celebration of choice'; far from it. It is a rationalization devoid of humanity and created, in the first instance by the legal possibility of euthanasia. It is then abetted by whatever it is in that family and that society that confirmed and supported the kind of dysfunction that allowed the children to confirm and assist instead of saying a clear, No, and offering every alternate support, no matter what the cost.