“The Death Treatment”


In The New Yorker, Rachel Aviv writes about the physician-assisted euthanizing of Godelieva De Troyer, a Belgian woman who decided to kill herself because she had long suffered in depression. And in Everyday Health, Therese Borchard discusses the article and writes about moments in the past when her depression made her want a physician-assisted suicide. Meanwhile in Canada, a year after the country’s Supreme Court struck down a ban on physician-assisted suicide, the government has yet to draft any guidelines for the practice.

The Death Treatment (The New Yorker, June 22, 2015)

Is Physician-Assisted Suicide Right for Severe Psychiatric Disorders? (Everyday Health, June 19, 2015)

Peter MacKay says government needs more time to draft assisted-suicide law (CBC News, June 17, 2015)


  1. There is no way I can see the euthanization of Godelieva De Troyer, or others like her in Belgium, as a sign of respect for those with serious depression or a token of “equality” with physical illness. Just the opposite. Although most of the practitioners may be well-meaning, I think their concept of depression as a medical illness has made them far too comfortable with labeling people “incurable” and throwing in the towel. It has also let the Belgian medical system and the larger society off the hook when it comes to making a real attempt to help or support people like DeTroyer.

    Sort of like the concept of Treatment Resistant Depression, taken to its ultimate logical conclusion.

    The article said Belgian mental health care was scarce and of low quality. Far too many people languish in hospitals for months or years, while outpatient treatment is fragmented, limited and hard to get. Nobody in Belgium seemed to disagree.

    The euthanasia doctor made the point that these people have often tried dozens of medications and hospitalizations to no avail, and they have a right to say, No more. I can’t disagree with that. But it’s clear there’s so many kinds of support DeTroyer was never offered. Her grown son thought the chance to reconcile with her grown children and grandkids might have provided that little flicker of interest in living that could have helped her go on. Given a chance, he would have tried to make it so. But he wasn’t even told of his mother’s plan until she was already dead.

    And what if the simple prospect of a place to go in the morning and have breakfast with friendly people could have brought out that little flicker? That’s all you need sometimes. I know at my own worst times I did not survive because I stood up and dramatically Decided To Live. I survived by putting off suicide, one day and one week at a time. My doctor didn’t coerce me; he never tried to have me locked up against my will to thwart my desire to die. But the fact that he never gave up on me was a big part of what let me put off the end for one more week.

    If a system like the Belgian one had been in place back then, and if my wish to die had been respected and even praised and defended by my doctor, there is not a chance in hell I would be alive today. And I’m glad to be here! Doctors have tremendous authority, both psychological and practical, and these Belgian doctors seem willfully blind to their own role in leading, maybe even pushing some patients down the path to death.

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    • This woman suffered from TRD for all her life. Her life was complete agony. You got better, but many don’t. Many people spend their entire lives in wards aonizing for death every day until they finally die.
      Why should such patients be deprived of the right to a dignified death just because you are uncomfortable with such a decision? Nobody should ever have to suffer wishing to die every single day for the rest of their life. I doubt you would qualify for PAS anyways because your condition has to be treatment-resistant with many years to decades spent in therapy seeking treatment to no avail. Why should such people have to suffer their entire lives Johanna?

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  2. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I think everyone should be allowed to commit suicide but assisting physicians for “mental health illnesses” sounds horrifying, especially with the history of psychiatry in mind.

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  3. It seems you are very comfortable imposing your views on others with respect to how they wish to live or die. As more and more medical professionals and others see fit to apply reason and respect for suffering patients, it is becoming more and more accepted that competent adults should not be deprived of assistance in dying where the individual clearly consents and suffers from an intolerable and irremediable medical condition. Whether the cause of their suffering is physical or mental is of no significance.
    To assert that someone does not have the right to die because you think that their condition (neuro-progressive depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, etc.) do not qualify as diseases in your view, is to parse words and demean the suffering of a significant portion of the population.
    It appears most evident that you have not suffered or been close to someone who suffers from the worst stages of these conditions, or perhaps there would be more empathy.
    Medical science is far from perfect. Yet in the absence of effective treatments, patients will try anything for relief. Even death.

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