Told they'd never see each other again, these twins chose to end their lives.

Identical twin brothers. 45 years old. Both deaf since birth.

After being told they would go blind within a few years, Marc and Eddy Verbessem – who had spent their whole lives living and working together – told doctors they couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to see each other.

If they couldn’t communicate with one another, they didn’t want to live.

The brothers lived in Belgium, one of the very few countries where euthanasia – the act of intentionally ending the life of someone suffering a terminal or incurable illness – is legal for adults.

Normally, Belgian law only permits euthanasia where the patient is suffering unbearable pain or terminal illness. But doctors reportedly agreed to pursuing the euthanasia option in this case on the grounds of “intolerable suffering” and the fact the twins had taken the decision to die in “full conscience”.

The UK press reports:

Marc and Eddy Verbessem

Doctors at Brussels University Hospital in Jette “euthanised” the two men by lethal injection on 14 December last year.

“They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well and a rich conversation. The separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone.”

A peaceful and legal death at a time of their own choosing would not have been available to the twins, had they lived in Australia. Here, euthanasia laws are stricter. In all states and territories in Australia, voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal. (You can get more information on individual state laws here.)

But not everyone thinks that’s the way it should be in this country. This from The Drum:

Opinion polling conducted for the Australia Institute in November 2010 (1,294 respondents) recorded a total 75 per cent said ‘yes’ to the question: “If someone with a terminal illness, who is experiencing un-relievable suffering asks to die, should a doctor be allowed to assist them to die?” Sixty-five per cent of the respondents who said ‘yes’ declared themselves to be Christians.

In South Australia, there are currently moves being made to legalise the practice of euthanasia. Independent MP Bob Such will introduce The Ending Life With Dignity Bill 2013 to South Australia’s state parliament next month.

The Bill would establish a board of eight members of people from legal and medical backgrounds, who would oversee voluntary euthanasia orders in the state. This from News Limited:

State MP Bob Such wants euthanasia legalised in South Australia.

The Bill would apply to people who are terminally ill and whose pain cannot be relieved.

It would also require:

TWO doctors to assess any patient requesting voluntary euthanasia.

A PATIENT to obtain a psychiatric certificate to prove they are of sound mind and are not depressed or acting under duress if an assessing doctor raises concerns about their mental state.

DOCTORS to only give euthanasia drugs “immediately” before use by the patient.

CORONERS’ reports to describe the patient’s illness or injury that led to requesting voluntary euthanasia and how the procedure was carried out.

CAUSE of death not be listed as suicide or homicide.

Either patient or doctor could carry out euthanasia.

The likely success of the bill isn’t strong. Several previous attempts to legalise euthanasia in Australia have failed and while public opinion seems to support the practice, we haven’t yet found a workable legal framework.

If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, seek support and information by calling Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 or beyondblue: the national depression initiative 1300 22 4636.

Where do you stand on the euthanasia debate? Had these two brothers lived in Australia, do you think they should have been allowed to end their own lives?

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