Euthanasia has gotten some pretty uncritical treatment from the media, especially the month-long media drama last fall involving 29-year-old Bethany Maynard. Her decision to short-circuit an almost-certain agonizing death via brain cancer by deciding to kill herself beforehand kept the nation enthralled for weeks, especially when she seemed to back off from her resolution near the end. But she did the deed last Nov. 1, her target date.
What went untold there -- and in many euthanasia narratives before that -- was something of the devastation felt by the nearest of kin.
Which is why this New Yorker piece on Godelieva De Troyer, a Belgian woman who did not have a terminal illness but chose to die nevertheless, is the exception.
The story first goes into De Troyer’s lifelong battles with depression, which was abetted when her husband committed suicide, leaving her a single parent with two small children. She struggled along, finding comfort in a new boyfriend for a time, but then losing him and also losing the affection of her daughter, who had moved to Africa and wished no contact with her. What remained was a son, who was married with two children. It is this son, named Tom, that the article spends much time on.
Belgium had passed a law in 2002 that allows euthanasia for those who have an incurable illness that causes them unbearable physical or mental suffering. (It also allows euthanasia for incurably ill children and a law allowing euthanasia for dementia is also in the works.) When De Troyer turned 63, she met Wim Distelmans, a doctor who was a proponent of that law. One thing led to another and in late 2011, she told her children she’d filed a euthanasia request with her doctor. Neither took her seriously, so they were shocked to learn the following April that she had indeed killed herself. The son found a note from her saying that after 40 years of unsuccessful therapy for her depression, she was done.
At this point, the article slips into theology: