The story of the deaf twins that were euthanized in Belgium is not only the story of Marc and Eddy but it is also the story of today’s world. For Marc and Eddy, the fear of living was stronger than the fear of dying. According to a Clarion Ledger report on Jan. 15, 2013, the deaf twins’ older brother said that “"Their great fear was that they would no longer be able to see each other. … That was for my brothers unbearable."
The two deaf twins, 45-year-old Marc and Eddy Verbessem of Putte died peacefully by lethal injection on Dec. 14, 2012, at the Brussels University Hospital in Belgium.
The end of the story of the deaf twins that were euthanized sounds nice.
"It was a relief to see the end of their suffering. … They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well, and a rich conversation. The separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last, there was a little wave of their hands, and then they were gone," described David Dufour the deaf twins’ last moments to Germany's RTL TV network.
It makes one wonder. What is the story of the two deaf twins who chose death over life?
Marc and Eddy were born as deaf twins in the village of Putte near the city of Mechelen in Belgium. Being deaf and being twins created a bond so strong between them that it in the end that bond became stronger than the bond to life. Being two deaf twins, Marc and Eddy spent their whole life together. There was no need for a mate; there was no need for children.
"They lived together, did their own cooking and cleaning. You could eat off the floor,” said the deaf twins’ 46-year-old older brother Dirk. The two deaf twins had each other and they “did not want to be in an institution.”
As the two deaf twins grew older, they continued to spend their life together. Marc and Eddy shared an apartment, worked as cobblers (shoemakers who repair shoes), but otherwise did not have contact with the outside world other than their immediate family.
According to The Telegraph report, “The deaf twin brothers had spent their entire lives together, sharing a flat while both working as cobblers and could only communicate with special sign language understood by each other and their immediate family.”
When Marc and Eddy found out that they would be going blind and would no longer be able to see each other, it also meant that their unique way of communicating with each other would have been destroyed and made impossible.
Not having learned anything else, for the two deaf twins it would have meant that they had nothing to live for.
“The two deaf twins killed by legal euthanasia in Belgium were frightened of losing their independence in an institution and had ‘nothing to live for’.”
And this is where the story of the two deaf twins, or Marc and Eddy Verbessem from the little village of Putte near Mechelen, becomes the story of today’s world.
By the time Marc and Eddy decided that they had nothing to live for, it was too late for the parents of the two deaf twins to talk them out of it. It was also too late for any doctors to talk the two deaf twins out of their fatal decision.
Voluntary euthanasia, known in the United States as assisted suicide, is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Oregon, Washington, and Montana.
Under Belgium euthanasia law, “to make a legitimate euthanasia request, the patient must be an adult, must be conscious and legally competent at the moment of making the request, and must be in a condition of constant and unbearable physical or psychological suffering resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident, for which medical treatment is futile and there is no possibility of improvement.”
For Marc and Eddy, being deaf, about to go blind, having insufficient contact with the outside world and having no other purpose than making shoes seemed to constitute “unbearable physical or psychological suffering.”
If they would have lived in 1850, they would have done what Herman Melville’s fictional character Bartleby the Scrivener did. Sit in front of a wall of an institution and die.
Herman Melville’s story is difficult to read because of its language and its length. It is the story of Bartleby who works as a scrivener in a lawyer’s office. A scrivener is a living copying machine doing nothing but writing several copies of legal documents word by word over and over again. Bartleby, like the deaf twins, had no one to depend on him, he had no mate, no children, and his job, like that of a cobbler, was tedious, uncreative, and only for others. So Bartleby says, “I prefer not to.” At first he prefers not to do his scrivener work. Then he prefers not to leave the lawyer’s office and ends up living there. After having been institutionalized, Bartleby prefers not to eat. Since there is no legal euthanasia in 1850, Bartleby dies sitting in front of a wall. No one even notices.
Even though the story of the two deaf twins who chose euthanasia takes place in 2012 and not 1850, it sounds all too much like the story of Bartleby or anyone who commits suicide. What is there to live for?
Why didn’t the two deaf twins learn to communicate with others outside of their immediate family? Why didn’t the two deaf twins become a part of a deaf community that understands the challenges and the different life style that comes with being deaf?
From the life experience and the point of view of the two deaf twins it makes sense that they decided to end their lives. For most people, the two deaf twins’ decision is difficult to understand. So many people are fighting for their lives in the face of sickness, handicaps, and emotional pain. How can anyone just throw all of it away?
The story of the two deaf twins is an important story because the skill of fighting for one’s life and the skill of dealing with fear has to be learned. One also has to learn to have a passion or purpose in life (other than a twin), and one has to learn that life is not meant to be easy.
It is interesting that Marc and Eddy were 45 years old when they made their decision to end their life. For many men, being 45 is a time when one gets a second chance to do or learn something that one should have done or learned before.
No one told Marc and Eddy (not even the doctors) that maybe there was a purpose to becoming blind. Maybe it would have been a strong enough catalyst to push them into society. If deafness didn’t, maybe blindness would have. Maybe be being blind, they would have learned to see.
The ending of the story of the two deaf twins is a reminder of so much. A reminder that one does get second chances, a reminder that age carries a message, a reminder that one has to have a passion and a purpose in life, and a reminder that life is not meant to be easy. Life is a struggle. Struggle and you will live. And then there is fear. Life is filled with fear. It is part of the human experience.
Someone should have taught Marc and Eddy Verbessem from the little village of Putte near Mechelen that life is filled with fear. Not just for them but for anyone.
Marc and Eddy’s legacy and impact in the world could have been so much more than just being known as the deaf twins that were euthanized.
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