This Belgian Paralympian Is Spreading a Powerful Message About Suicide

September 13th 2016

Laura Donovan

A Paralympian who signed euthanasia papers in 2008 just opened up about delaying her death in the wake of winning a silver medal, has shed light on the larger debate about dying with dignity.

Belgian wheelchair racer Marieke Vervoort said at a recent news conference that she is "still enjoying every little moment" of life and will eventually go through with euthanasia when she has more bad days than good days. Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium for more than a decade. In 2013, Belgium voted to allow incurably ill children to undergo euthanasia as well.

"It's a feeling of 'Yes, I won a silver medal,'" she told The BBC. "But there is also another side to the medal, the side of suffering and of saying goodbye to the sport. Because I love the sport, sport is my life."


Vervoort, who has been living with an extremely painful degenerative spinal condition since adolescence, said at the conference that she would have committed suicide on her own if it weren't for Belgium's legalized euthanasia system. "I think there will be fewer suicides when every country has the law of euthanasia," she said, according to CNN. "I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer."

Currently, Euthanasia is only legal in four states in America: Oregon, Vermont, Washington and California. 

Vervoort's remarks speak to a broader discussion about people choosing to die on their own terms.

In a 2015 New Yorker piece, writer Rachel Aviv noted that research suggests that people who seek euthanasia are looking to have control over their death rather than let their illnesses spiral out of control and ultimately kill them. She included the highly-publicized example of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman who went through assisted suicide in Oregon two years ago. Maynard was a newlywed when she was diagnosed with brain cancer, and before her death, Maynard told the media that she wanted to die with dignity rather than let the cancer take over.

"Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important," Maynard wrote in a CNN piece that was published after her death. "It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain. Now, I'm able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love. And I know that I have a safety net."