Marieke Vervoort, 40, a decorated international athlete in the Paralympics, ended her life Oct. 22 through euthanasia in her native Belgium.
Best known for winning gold in the T52 100-meter wheelchair race and silver in the 200-meter race at the London 2012 Paralympics, as well as clenching another silver medal at Rio 2016, Vervoort had been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative spinal disease at age 14, and later developed epilepsy.
In 2008, Vervoort signed euthanasia papers in Belgium, where the practice has been legal since 2002 for adults with “conditions causing unbearable suffering and with no prospect of improvement.” In 2014, the law was expanded to allow euthanasia for children.
Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, told Decision: “We need to point to the hope that is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to remind people that the sufferings on this earth are momentary compared to eternity—that there is value in life. It’s very often through suffering that we come to understand what it is to really live.”
Vervoort reportedly was in perpetual, debilitating pain, but continued to channel her struggles into athletics, competing in the T52 classification for athletes who have limited or no mobility below their waists and who have impaired motor skills in their arms and hands.
For more than a decade, she contemplated the day of her death, and with the aid of doctors, eventually followed through with her plans last week.
“It is extremely sad news that Ms. Vervoort has chosen to end her life this way,” said Dr. Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, an anti-euthanasia organization. “But her death highlights how the ‘right to die’ has become a ‘duty to die’ in both Belgium and its near neighbor the Netherlands.
“In these countries, laws which were only supposed to apply to mentally competent terminally ill adults have been extended and safeguards removed. Euthanasia laws in Belgium and the Netherlands now include those who are not terminally ill, disabled people, nonmentally competent adults, those with mental health problems, couples and even children.”
Despite Belgium’s broadening euthanasia laws, on Oct. 28, the World Medical Association (WMA), which represents more than 10 million physicians worldwide, reaffirmed its opposition to euthanasia.
“The WMA reiterates its strong commitment to the principles of medical ethics and that utmost respect has to be maintained for human life,” the WMA stated in a media release. “Therefore, the WMA is firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.”
Paul Coleman, executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, commented: “The slippery slope is on full public display in Belgium, and we can clearly see the tragic consequences. According to the most recent government report, more than six people per day are killed [by euthanasia], and that may yet be the tip of the iceberg. The figures expose the truth that, once these laws are passed, the impact of euthanasia cannot be controlled. Belgium has set itself on a trajectory that implicitly tells its most vulnerable, including the elderly, that their lives are not worth living. This is not an example that other countries should follow.”
Photo: Marieke Vervoort (left) gives a fist bump to a USA sprinter (right) after she took second in the women’s 200 meters T52 final during the third day of competition at Olympic Stadium for the 2012 London Paralympics. Vervoort had a time of 34.83 seconds.