If I had been given the option of euthanasia, I would never have overcome my suicidal thoughts

The killing of a woman suffering from PTSD sends out the wrong message to survivors of abuse

Jenn Selby
Wednesday 18 May 2016 11:44
At the patient’s request, she was killed by lethal injection in the Netherlands
At the patient’s request, she was killed by lethal injection in the Netherlands

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.

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.

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