Monday, May 1, 2023

Euthanasia potpourri

 A 23-year-old Belgian woman who survived a deadly Islamic State bombing of a Brussels airport opted to die by euthanasia after years of mental health issues stemming from the attack.

"That day really cracked her, she never felt safe after that," Shanti De Corte's mother, Marielle, told Belgian news station VRT of her daughter's struggles since the 2016 ISIS attack on Brussels Airport in Zaventem, according to a recent report by the Daily Mail.

De Corte was a 17-year-old student traveling with classmates when terrorists affiliated with ISIS detonated a bomb in the airport in March 2016. She was walking through the departures lounge when the explosion rocked the airport, killing 33 people and wounding an additional 340.

Though De Corte survived the blast and did not suffer any physical injuries, the mental trauma of the day haunted her for the rest of her life.

"She didn't want to go anywhere where other people were, out of fear," De Corte's mother recalled. "She also had frequent panic attacks and she never got rid of it.'"

Belgium is one of seven countries that allows euthanasia at the national level. It was the second country to allow the practice in 2002, joining the Netherlands, which began allowing euthanasia earlier that year. Since then, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, Spain and New Zealand have passed laws allowing euthanasia. 

Euthanasia is illegal in the United States, where patients are allowed to refuse medical treatment and can give consent to withdraw life support. Some U.S. states do, however, permit physician-assisted suicide under certain circumstances.

Belgium and the Netherlands are more permissive with euthanasia than other countries where the practice is legal, allowing patients who suffer from mental illness to choose to be euthanized.

The De Corte euthanasia was approved by two psychiatrists earlier this year after she struggled for years with anxiety and depression. She attempted suicide in 2018 and 2020, and regularly posted to social media about her struggles with mental health.

"I get a few medications for breakfast. And up to 11 antidepressants a day. I couldn't live without it," she wrote in one post. "With all the medications I take, I feel like a ghost that can't feel anything anymore. Maybe there were other solutions than medications."

But not everyone was convinced that euthanasia was the only choice for De Corte, with prosecutors opening an investigation into the case after a neurologist at the UZC Brugman academic clinical hospital in Brussels raised concerns about the decision and argued it "was made prematurely."

Despite those concerns, De Corte was euthanized in May of this year, taking to social media one last time to document her feelings.

"I was laughing and crying. Until the last day. I loved and was allowed to feel what true love is," she posted. "Now I will go away in peace. Know that I miss you already."

The Netherlands is set to expand its euthanasia regulations to include assisting in the death of children ages 1 to 12 years old. 

"The current Scheme for Termination of Pregnancy and Termination of Life for Newborns (LZA/LP) will be amended and expanded to include termination of life in children aged 1-12," a post from the Dutch government earlier this month stated. 

"This concerns a small group of terminally ill children who suffer hopelessly and unbearably, whose palliative care options are not sufficient to relieve their suffering and who are expected to die in the foreseeable future."

The post stated that "termination of life is the only reasonable alternative to end the hopeless and unbearable suffering of the child" and said five to 10 children per year fall under this category.  

In 2002, the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia under strict conditions. All cases of euthanasia must be reported to medical review boards.

The law already provided possibilities for euthanasia involving terminally ill babies until their first birthday and for children aged older than 12.

The Netherlands would not be the first to allow doctor-assisted death for children of all ages. Belgium has allowed it since 2014.

The expanded euthanasia rules drew a significant amount of criticism online including from Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who said he supports adults having the right to end their lives but draws the line with children.

"I agree with assisted suicide if someone is a mature adult, but definitely not kids," Musk tweeted Tuesday. "There is a reason we have an age of consent."

Some Twitter users responded negatively to Musk with comments such as "life is precious" and "you realize this will lead to people being pushed into this if they’re viewed as a drain on the economy, right?"

Physician-assisted suicide has been a hotly debated topic across the United States for decades but a push to legalize the controversial practice in more states is picking up steam this year.

Starting with Oregon in 1997, 10 other states and the District of Columbia have made it legal for a terminally ill patient to ask their doctor for a lethal cocktail of drugs they ingest to die. They include California, Montana, Vermont, Washington, New Jersey and Hawaii.

Lawmakers in 10 more states have introduced physician-assisted suicide laws in 2023.

A Canadian armed forces veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury was offered medical assistance in dying by an employee of Veterans Affairs Canada.

The VAC released a statement last week admitting to an incident "where medical assistance in dying was discussed inappropriately" with the veteran. The department pledged that "appropriate administrative action will be taken" after the veteran expressed outrage at the suggestion, according to a report in Global News.

According to the report, the veteran called VAC seeking support for PTSD when the employee brought up medical assistance in dying, or euthanasia, unprompted. The veteran was reportedly shocked by the suggestion. His family told Global News that the soldier had been making positive progress in his physical and mental rehabilitation and that he felt betrayed by an agency that is tasked with assisting veterans.

The veteran's ordeal has since raised fears that the exchange may not have been an isolated incident, leading to questions about how often the agency has offered or discussed MAID with those suffering from PTSD.

The agency has since apologized to the veteran in follow-up call after the incident resulted in several complaints, with the VAC saying it "deeply regrets what transpired."

Canada legalized MAID in 2016, with 2021 amendments broadening eligibility for those requesting the procedure. People suffering from mental disorders will also be allowed access to MAID starting in 2023.

But discussing MAID with veterans is not within the scope of the VAC, an agency in charge of the care of a population already at higher risk of suicide.

"Providing advice pertaining to medical assistance in dying is not a VAC service," the VAC said.

In 2017, the Canadian government introduced a new suicide-prevention strategy for military personnel and veterans which promised improved care and services. The plan also provided training to medical staff on how to respond to the warning signs of suicide.

Reached for comment by Fox News, a VAC spokesperson said "advice pertaining to Medical assistance in dying is not a VAC service."

"VAC’s Case Managers, Veteran Service Agents, and Veteran Service Team Managers have no mandate or role to recommend medical assistance in dying to Veteran clients," the spokesperson said. "Considerations for medical assistance in dying are the subject of discussions between a patient and their primary care providers to determine appropriateness in each individual context. It is covered through the provincial and territorial health authorities and is administered by a physician or nurse practitioner directly to the individual.

"We are investigating what occurred. We have not found any other similar incidents," the spokesperson continued. "This isolated incident is not indicative of a pattern of behaviour or a systemic issue."

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