Last week, Nathan Verhelst, a man whose gender reassignment surgeries failed to meet his expectations, chose to end his life via euthanasia. Verhelst lived in Belgium, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002, and a few hours before his death, he uttered the heartbreaking words, "I was the girl no one wanted."
Nathan was born a female but, like many transgender individuals, felt that he was living in the wrong body. In an interview after the procedures, he stated that he felt like a monster. "I was ready to celebrate my new birth. But when I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted with myself. My new breasts did not match my expectations and my penis had symptoms of rejection." Nathan was, to put it simply, extremely depressed.
But should this give a government the right to end someone's life?
The criteria for getting euthanized is strict. In order to file a request, applicants need to be of age, mentally competent, and suffering from an incurable condition that causes constant, unbearable suffering. Typically the people who are euthanized are between the ages of 60-79 and are suffering from a physical disease, such as terminal cancer. But psychological diseases are eligible, too. Applicants must go through numerous consults with their doctor to make sure they're not making an impulsive decision, and at least a month must pass between the time they apply and the procedure (several months had gone by in Nathan's case). The doctor must consult with a second independent physician, and in cases of mental diseases, a third doctor has to be consulted.
So, no. It isn't like Nathan just walked into a hospital and was euthanized. Medical professionals (three of them) all came to the conclusion that this was the right thing to do for him.
It sounds intense and, at first glance, maybe even unethical -- euthanizing someone whose suffering is psychological. But it's more nuanced than that. To give you a little idea of what Nathan's background was like, here's what his mother told reporters after he died: "When I first saw 'Nancy,' my dream was shattered. She was so ugly. I had a phantom birth. Her death does not bother me ... For me, this chapter closed. Her death does not bother me. I feel no sorrow, no doubt or remorse. We never had a bond which could therefore not be broken."
Changes things a little bit, doesn't it?
Chances are, if the government didn't administer Nathan a lethal cocktail at his request, he would have, at some point, taken his own life himself. Yes, the concept of euthanasia is a strange one to internalize, but it isn't one that's taken lightly to either professionals or the people who choose to have it done. It gives people living with unbearable pain -- and a ticking clock -- a little mercy. And in the case of someone like Nathan an end to a miserable life that was filled with little more than suffering. He, in a way, died with dignity.
And after everything he endured while he was here on Earth, how could anyone deny him that?
Do you believe in euthanasia?
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