A paralympic gold medallist and world champion wheelchair racer has ended her life through euthanasia at the age of 40.
Marieke Vervoort suffered with an incurable degenerative muscle disease which caused seizures and paralysis in her legs and left her in in constant pain.
In 2008 she signed papers authorising doctors to help her die when the time came, but later described sport as her “medicine”.
The Belgian would go on to win gold in the T52 100m and silver in the 200m at the London paralympics in 2012. Four years later in Rio, she won silver in the 400m and bronze in the 100m, having secured gold in the Doha world championships in the 100m, 200m and 400m races the previous year.
After her triumph in Brazil she spoke out in support of euthanasia and about ending her life.
”When the day comes – when I have more bad days than good days – I have my euthanasia papers, “ she said. “If I didn’t have those papers, I wouldn’t have been able to go into the Paralympics.”
Rejecting reports that she was considering ending her life after the competition, she said: “The time is not there yet... you have to live day-by-day and enjoy the little moments.”
In her last post on Instagram she captioned a photograph of her competing with the words: “Can’t forget the good memories!”
Her death was announced in a statement from her home city of Diest.
“On 22 October 2019, Marieke Vervoort, “our Wielemie”, passed away,” it read. “Marieke opted for euthanasia a few years ago and responded to her choice on Tuesday evening.”
Mayor Christophe De Graef said the athlete was "an example for many people who are struggling."
He added: "She always stayed in it to believe. Believe in performance, believe in being able to handle it. A goal every time capture. How difficult sometimes. Let it be a lesson for all of us. In perseverance, but also in perspective. “
“If I didn’t have those [euthanasia] papers, I wouldn’t have been able to go into the Paralympics,” she said. “I was a very depressed person – I was thinking about how I was going to kill myself. In England, I hope, and every country, they will look at euthanasia in another way – it’s not murder.
“With euthanasia, you are sure that you will have a soft, beautiful death, and that you can do it with the people you want who stay with you. It gives a feeling of peace and rest on my body that I can choose myself how far I will go.”
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