Brothers choose death over blindness

Last updated 11:08 15/01/2013
Marc and Eddy Verbessem

INSEPARABLE: Marc and Eddy Verbessem were 45 when they were euthanised.

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Two identical and deaf Belgian brothers have been euthanised after the inseparable middle-aged pair found out they were going blind and would never see each other again.

Marc and Eddy Verbessem were 45. They lived and worked together; and last month they died together after a Belgium hospital accepted their request to be euthanised.

Belgium is one of three countries where euthanasia is legal for non-terminally ill patients.

The brothers feared they would lose their only way of communicating with each other after learning they were going blind, The Telegraph reported.

They said goodbye to their parents and brother last month before both being euthanised by lethal injection, the week.co.uk reported.

Another hospital had earlier denied the men's request to be euthanised, but Professor Wim Distelmans, who accepted their request, said they met the criteria - in that they must be in unbearable physical or psychological pain.

The twins' brother Dirk Verbessem defended their decision.

"Many will wonder why my brothers have opted for euthanasia because there are plenty of deaf and blind that have a 'normal' life," The Telegraph reported him as saying.

"But my brothers trudged from one disease to another. They were really worn out."

His brothers were both going blind with glaucoma and Eddy had a deformed spine and had recently undergone heart surgery, The Telegraph reported.

"The great fear that they would no longer be able to see, or hear, each other and the family was, for my brothers, unbearable," he said.

Dr David Durfour, who treated the brothers, said their physical condition was strongly deteriorating and it was a "weight off their shoulders" when they learnt their request to be euthanised had been accepted, the Huffington Post reported.

"They were happy and relieved that a date was set to end their suffering."

The day of their deaths was "serene and beautiful", week.co.uk reported the doctor as saying.

"They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well... 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."

The decision to euthanise the men was not accepted by the first hospital or by Chris Gastmans, professor of medical ethics at the Catholic University of Leuven.

Gastmans said he was concerned for the wider implications for the welfare of disabled people, the Telegraph reported.

"I will not enter the legal discussion but I am left with questions," he said.

"Is this the only humane response that we can offer in such situations? I feel uncomfortable here as ethicist. Today it seems that euthanasia is the only right way to end life. And I think that's not a good thing. In a society as wealthy as ours, we must find another, caring way to deal with human frailty."

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There were 1133 cases of euthanasia in Belgium last year. It is legal only for those aged over 18 but the Government is considering extending it to children and those suffering from Alzheimer's, The Telegraph reported. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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