I am only alive right now because I was disturbed. Three times. Once by a message, once by a stranger and once by a dog crying outside my bedroom door. Without those random events, I wouldn’t have broken the trance; the illusionary belief that there was nothing but darkness in my future, that I was alone and nothing could ever be done to improve my situation. If a doctor had asked me on any of these occasions whether I wanted help to end my suffering, I would have gratefully accepted. All I longed for was sleep; to curl up underneath my duvet and drift away.
Thankfully, however, a doctor didn’t ask. I’m still alive, and I can think and feel and love and do all the things I thought I’d never be able to. And that’s precisely why I find reports that a suicidal woman in her 20s was euthanased due to her supposedly “incurable” Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder so unsettling.
The information, newly released by the Dutch Euthanasia Committee, revealed that the unnamed woman was a victim of child abuse, and had spent years in and out of therapy to help her cope with the ongoing symptoms of chronic PTSD. First used to describe the terrible flashbacks, panic attacks, anxiety and suicidal thoughts suffered by soldiers returning home from the horrors of the Vietnam War, PTSD later became a more common clinical diagnosis for extreme civilian stressors – like violent physical attacks and extreme mental abuse. At the patient’s request, she was killed by lethal injection last year.
According to the Daily Mail, the publishing of such information was an attempt by a Dutch government “anxious to justify euthanasia laws and to demonstrate that mercy killings are carried out under full and correct medical supervision.”
In my eyes, the report did precisely the opposite. Like the unknown patient, I too suffer from PTSD. I was attacked some years ago and, during the lengthy and harrowing police process, repeatedly experienced anxiety attacks, sometimes so severe I would black out. I lapsed in and out of depression, and experienced waves of suicidal thoughts, sometimes so large and looming I felt entirely immersed by them.
But like all thoughts and feelings, suicidal ones are not permanent. Like the tide, they come and they go. Slowly, with therapy, I learned to recognise this ebbing and flowing, allowing painful emotions to rise and fall away, safe in the knowledge that they were just what they were – momentary lapses of reason.
Mental Health Awareness: Facts and figures
Mental Health Awareness: Facts and figures
1/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
30 per cent of people deal with anxiety by talking to a friend or relative, or by going for a walk.
2/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
Almost one in five people feel anxious all or a lot of the time.
3/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
22 per cent of women feel anxious a lot or all of the time, compared to 15 per cent of men.
Roman Levin/Flickr Creative Commons
4/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
45 per cent of people who feel anxious in everyday life cite financial issues as their biggest cause of worry.
5/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
And 26 per cent of people who feel anxious say fearing for the welfare of their children and loved ones leaves them burdened with worry.
And 26 per cent of people say fearing for the welfare of their children and loved ones leaves them burdened with anxiety.
6/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
27 per cent of people who suffer from anxiety say work issues, such as long hours, are the source of the problem.
7/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
But 16 per cent use alcohol to cope, while 10 per cent turn to cigarettes in the face of anxiety. Unemployed people are more likely to resort to these harmful strategies: 27 per cent use alcohol and 23 per cent use cigarettes.
8/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
Only seven per cent of people who say they suffer from anxiety seek help from their GP.
9/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
People are thought to be more anxious than they were five years ago.
Alessandra/Flickr Creative Commons
10/10 Mental Health Foundation: Living With Anxiety report
The stresses of modern life are thought to have created "The Age of Anxiety".
So while I agree that PTSD may not be entirely cureable, it is certainly manageable. I, along with many others, continue to receive support and care to get me through the tough days. But I do get through them. And I am still alive.
The very idea that “under full and correct medical supervision” a physician mistook reoccurring suicidal thoughts as a mercy request is ludicrous. It doesn’t take a professor of psychiatry to point out that someone wishing to terminate their own life in this way is far from in their right mind, and not mentally able to make such a serious decision in the first place.
To me, this report doesn’t just emphasise the glaring flaws in legal euthanasia in the Netherlands – having the option to die with dignity following a terminal diagnosis is not, and should not be, considered the same as allowing a physically well individual to end their life. It also sends out the wrong message to survivors of abuse, struggling to battle through a sea of mental scars.
There is hope. There is light. And they will not feel like this forever. This faceless, nameless young woman was failed in the most extraordinary way. The only thing proved by the release of this report is that a survivor, with her whole life ahead of her, was killed prematurely and through utter ignorance.