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Better Off Dead

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#8 Darkness visible: Marjorie, Edith and Laura: Belgium, part 2

Listen to #8 Darkness visible: Marjorie, Edith and Laura: Belgium, part 2

Shortly after arriving in Belgium, I learned of ‘Laura’ – a 24-year-old woman who had sought the right to be euthanised after years of unrelieved mental suffering.

Immediately, I heard alarm bells.

My gut reaction?

A 24-year-old who’s not terminally ill? Surely there’s a point at which a society says ‘no: you have too much life ahead of you for us to help you die’.

If you’d asked me to tell you the point where it began to feel uncomfortable, this was it.

Photo of Marjorie Vangansbeke

After years of deep isolation, Marjorie Vangansbeke went to ULteam in pursuit of euthanasia. Instead, she came away with a diagnosis that helped her re-embrace her life — Photo: Emily Sexton

The days that followed, where I talked with some of Belgium’s leading psychiatrists and physicians, were amongst the most intense I’ve ever experienced.

Emotionally, I couldn’t shake the thought that this didn’t seem right. But intellectually, I wondered: is there more here than I know?

To be honest, I toyed with not including this story in the podcast: it is so fraught with ambiguity and nuance that I feared it could easily be misunderstood.

But two things persuaded me to continue with it. Firstly, that it was the people treating this young woman who had alerted me to her case. They wanted me to look at it – to try and understand.

And secondly? A meeting I had, two hours out of Brussels, with a man whose sadness was so intense it was almost visible. The story he told me would change my understanding of the world.

It led me to a question I had never considered before: what if the offer of euthanasia could actually save lives?

Photo of Pierre Pol Vincke and Edith Vincke

Pierre Pol Vincke and his daughter Edith who, after 18 years of severe mental illness and many denied attempts to seek relief through euthanasia, took her own life while in a psychiatric ward — Photos: supplied

'She realised that she was already dead, and whenever she asked for help for euthanasia, the answer of the doctors was to condemn her to stay alive.'

Pierre Pol Vincke



Please note: this podcast is not about suicide. If you are interested in increasing your understanding of suicide and how to support someone experiencing suicidal ideation, visit the Conversations Matter or beyondblue websites.

If you (or someone you know) require immediate assistance, contact one of the following 24/7 crisis support services: Lifeline (13 11 14), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), MensLine (1300 78 99 78), beyondblue (1300 22 4636), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or eheadspace (1800 650 890).



Hear more

Psychiatric euthanasias are the most difficult, and in some quarters, the most disputed of all forms of assisted dying. Here, Dirk De Wachter – one of Belgium’s leading psychiatrists, and author of the best-selling Borderline Times – discusses the complexities of a practice that he nonetheless cautiously supports.

Know more

In this episode

  • Marjorie Vangansbeke
  • Lieve Thienpont
  • Luc Proot
  • Pierre Pol Vincke

Our theme music was composed by Zig Zag Lane for Zapruder's Other Films, and edited by Jon Tjhia. Music used in this episode includes '20:17' (Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm), 'Tunnel' (Luke Howard), 'Familiar' (Nils Frahm), 'Dedication, Loyalty' (Nils Frahm), 'Hand, be Still' (Ólafur Arnalds), 'White Night' (Ludovico Einaudi) and 'Forty-Eight Angels' (Paul Kelly).

Your stories

If you're suffering, or someone you love has died badly – in a hospital, in palliative care, in a nursing home, or at home – add your voice and tell your story here.

Further information

Better Off Dead is produced by Thought Fox and the Wheeler Centre.

Executive producers Andrew Denton and Michael Williams. Producer and researcher Bronwen Reid. For Better Off Dead, the Wheeler Centre team includes Director Michael Williams, Head of Programming Emily Sexton, Head of Marketing and Communications Emily Harms, Projects Producer Amita Kirpalani and Digital Manager Jon Tjhia. Editing, sound design and mix on this episode is by Martin Peralta. Additional editing by Jess Fairfax.

Thank you

Thanks to field producer Emily Sexton, and to Paul Kelly and Sony ATV for the use of his song ‘Forty Eight Angels’.

The series

Subscribe in iTunes, or your favourite podcast app. #betteroffdeadpod


Better Off Dead is produced by Thought Fox in partnership with the Wheeler Centre. It is written and created by Andrew Denton for Thought Fox.

Discussion

All messages as part of this discussion and any opinions, advice, statements, or other information contained in any messages or transmitted by any third party are the responsibility of the author of that message and not the Wheeler Centre.

Better Off Dead

Andrew Denton investigates the stories, moral arguments and individuals woven into discussions about why good people are dying bad deaths in Australia – because there is no law to help them.