Being 29 was a rough year for me. I had had severe and enduring mental health difficulties since my teens and I was also dealing with overwhelming grief. As well as support from mental health services, I also saw my GP weekly, and he was an absolute rock.
No matter how distraught I was, or how helpless everything felt, he was an island of calm and reassurance. He heard my pain and reacted with kindness and hope. However much I gave up on myself, he had this weird faith that, one day, things wouldn’t be this bad.
So, when I wanted to die, the doctor talked me down. He believed in me, and it showed. He was gentle, funny, and probably sometimes exasperated, but he didn’t give up on helping me, week after week after week. When I needed a letter to the housing office, he’d write it; when I needed him to make a phone call to my psychiatrist, he’d call her; when I needed my medication to be tweaked, he’d work out the details.
In my despair, his belief in me helped me to carry on. In the midst of hellish unwellness, his quiet optimism occasionally penetrated the fog.
In time, I moved house, changed doctors, and he moved away. My health varied, with better times and worse times, and it turned out that he had been absolutely right that things would ease. The pressure lifted. The desolation weakened a little. But that GP’s influence, persistence and kindness had been an inherent part in keeping me alive.
I don’t know exactly how it played out with 29-year-old Aurelia Brouwers but it is evident that when she approached at least two doctors in the Netherlands because she had mental health problems and was suicidal, they agreed that she should die. Instead of talking her out of it, they agreed to euthanise her because of her history of mental illness and her suffering.
Unlike my former GP, Brouwers’s doctors heard her descriptions of pain and, rather than give her encouragement and hope, they gave her the means to end her life. And, with that validation, Brouwers may not have had to challenge her own suicidal thoughts any more.
When even your doctors agree you should die, what motivation is there to believe that things can change? Where can you find a glimpse of light in the darkness when the health professionals essentially say yes, this is it for you, death is best. This is the best you can expect for your future. Best to end it now.
Did doctors do the right thing?
On Brouwers’s blog, she describes herself as follows:
“I am Aurelia, 29 years and I have a Borderline Personality Disorder, chronic and complex PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders and many more mental issues. Because of my mental problems I asked for euthanasia and December 6 I heard my wish was granted. My euthanasia is planned for Januari 26. Final release! My hobbies are reading, writing, knitting, crochet, PixelHobby, languages and tv-series. I also spend my time fighting for euthanasia for mentally ill patients and euthanasia around the world. This is because I know I am a lucky bastard living in the Netherlands regarding euthanasia. I think everyone should have the chances I have. This blog is mainly about my mental illnesses and my euthanasia-route.”
Her diagnoses are not uncommon, and they are also not untreatable. I see many Twitter profiles that could read identically to her description of her conditions, and I have had several of those illnesses myself. It is really, really hard. But it does not have to be a death sentence.
I’m not an overly saccharine inspirational poster here. What Brouwers went through must have been shit, and much of me is sympathetic with her plight and glad that she got what she wanted.
But by taking the route of euthanasia, a lethal injection, she has paved the way for other people with mental health conditions to have their suicidal impulses – which are frequently symptoms of their illnesses – validated by doctors happy to issue an injection rather than treatment and help.
Aurelia Brouwers wanted to die because she had illnesses whose symptoms include wanting to die.
Let’s not encourage the endorsement of what our most negative voices tell us we deserve. Instead, let’s offer treatment, support and help, with a kindness and humour that Brouwers herself clearly had.
She was a very ill woman who needed a lot of help but, instead of finding that help, she found two doctors who agreed there was no hope for her, she found “fans” who supported her decision and egged her along, and she found a legal system that has a few too many holes in its “safety net”.