Earlier this week the story of the identical twins who chose euthanasia over a deaf blind life, unable to see or hear each other, appeared on my Facebook newsfeed.
The story, both tragic and uplifting, struck particular resonance with me since I too am a twin.
In some cultures, being a twin is lucky. Lydia and I have had strangers approach us, praise us, and even touch our hair for luck.
Our relationship is so close at times it’s difficult for others compete. Even members of our immediate family struggle. Our mum has complained that we close ranks if we’re in trouble, defending each other to the hilt. I feel for prospective partners!
Fortunately, neither of us has ever had to face the loss of the other. However, we have dealt with significant tragedy in our lives.
Our father died suddenly when we were 16. At the time, we were playing twins Viola and Sebastian in Twelfth Night and the production went ahead days after his death. Never have I felt more strongly the feelings of a character than in the first scene. The twins are separated following a shipwreck and each thinks the other is dead. The emotion of losing my dad coupled with the realisation that death can strike without warning meant I was crying real tears when I screamed for my sister on stage.
The 45-year-old Belgian brothers, who lived together and both worked as cobblers, were born deaf. They made the decision to end their lives after they discovered they would go blind and no longer be able to see each other.
The issue of euthanasia is one that is often addressed. Under what circumstances can a man legally choose to end his own life? In this instance the answer was simply, when his quality of life means he cannot go on living.
I don’t suppose to know what went through the twins’ heads as they made their decision. I am neither deaf, nor blind. It’s a decision that may shock many and I’m not sure whether I would have made the same choice had I been in their position, nor can I speak for my sister.
What I can do is empathise with the unbreakable, often painful, bond between siblings who grow together for nine months. What I can do is tell of the gut-wrenching sadness that I feel when I imagine life without my twin. These brothers weren’t just losing their sight, they were losing each other. To a twin, that is often more than is bearable.
In an old VHS, filmed when we were seven, Lydia and I tell our interviewer we want to live next-door to each other when we grow up. Despite this, I profess to want to move to Australia, whereas Lydia insists she will be living in South Africa. Geography clearly wasn’t our strong suit.
Now we both live in London. Although we’re not neighbours, we’re only a 10 minute bus ride apart. We didn’t go to the same university and are not following the same career path. I’m forging a career in journalism, while Lydia is putting all her effort into her final year at college, on top of applying for graduate schemes at a number of big companies. For the first time in our lives we are doing completely different things, and I think it’s healthy. Sometimes it’s necessary to remove yourself from someone you love dearly. If not, contemplating life without them is just too painful.
I spoke to Lydia as I wrote this article. She said she was happy the men had been allowed to choose. In true twin-like fashion, I agree. It’s this question of choice that makes the euthanasia debate so controversial, so difficult and so necessary.