Identical twin brothers who were born deaf were killed by Belgian doctors after seeking euthanasia when they found out they would also soon go blind because of a genetically caused form of glaucoma.
The 45-year-old brothers from Antwerp, Belgium, chose death because they were frightened of losing their independence in an institution and had “nothing to live for,” their brother said Monday. Dirk Verbessem, 46, explained that his younger brothers had lived together for all their adult lives and could not communicate with the outside world.
Marc and Eddy Verbessem, from the village of Putte, near the city of Mechelen, shared a flat while both working as cobblers and could communicate only with special sign language understood by each other and their immediate family.
“They lived together, did their own cooking and cleaning. You could eat off the floor. Blindness would have made them completely dependent. They did not want to be in an institution,” said their brother.
Four weeks ago, dressed in new shoes and suits, Marc and Eddy bade farewell to their parents and brother at Brussels University Hospital in Jette. They were euthanized by lethal injection; after spending their entire lives together they died together.
David Dufour, the doctor who presided over the euthanasia, said they were very happy and relieved to see the end of their suffering.
“They had a cup of coffee in the hall, then the separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. Lastly, there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone,” Dr. Dufour said.
After enlisting the support of their local doctor, it took the twins almost two years to find a medical institution to administer a lethal injection after being turned down by their local hospital.
Euthanasia is legal under Belgian law only if those making the decision can make their wishes clear, are suffering unbearable pain, and a doctor concurs. The Verbessem case is unusual because neither of the men was terminally ill nor suffering physical pain.
In 2011 Belgium recorded 1,133 cases of euthanasia -most of them were terminal cancer cases- which accounted for one percent of all deaths in the country. Euthanasia was legalized in 2002 for people over the age of 18.
Days after the twins were killed, Belgium’s government announced plans to amend the law to allow the euthanasia of children and Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Euthanasia is legal in Switzerland (the first one to legalize it,) Luxembourg and in the state of Oregon. In Switzerland, famous for its Dignitas clinic, only assisted suicide is permitted since 1940. This means patients must play an active role in the administration of the drug that ends their lives. Statistics from Dignitas show the clinic based near Zurich has helped a total of 1,298 people commit suicide between 1998 and 2011.
A bid to tighten legal controls on assisted deaths in Switzerland and ban suicide tourism was recently rejected by the country's Parliament. According to British newspaper the Daily Mail, the suicide tourism industry's patients come mainly from Britain, Germany, and France, but their numbers have been declining in recent years.