She’d been battling a painful degenerative condition for years which often left her unable to sleep and now Paralympian Marieke Vervoort has fulfilled her wish and ended her own life through euthanasia.
The Belgian gold medalist passed away at the age of 40, a statement from the city of Diest confirmed, according to multiple news outlets. She initially revealed she had signed the euthanasia papers during an emotional and lengthy interview at the Paralympic games in Rio in 2012, but said she would only go through with it when she had “more bad days than good”.
Vervoort described in detail the pain she’d often experience, with it sometimes leaving her unable to sleep for more than a few minutes at night. However, she insisted at the time that sport had given her a reason to keep fighting and enjoy life for as long as she could.
“It’s too hard for my body,” she said at the time, according to The Guardian. “Each training I’m suffering because of pain. Every race I train hard. Training and riding and doing competition are medicine for me. I push so hard – to push literally all my fear and everything away.”
Euthanasia is legal in her native Belgium and Vervoort has long been an advocate for the right to die on your own terms – insisting everyone should have that control. She reportedly added in the 2016 interview: “If I didn’t have those papers, I think I’d have done suicide already. I think there will be fewer suicides when every country has the law of euthanasia. I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer.”
Meanwhile, speaking at a news conference at the Rio games, she added: “I’m still enjoying every little moment. When the moment comes, when I have more bad days than good days, then I have my euthanasia papers, but the time is not there yet.”
Vervoort’s muscle condition caused near-constant pain and paralysis in her legs. While she was diagnosed at the age of 14, she didn’t let it stop her pursuing her sports dreams, going on to win gold and silver medals in 2012 at the London Paralympics in wheelchair racing, as well as two more medals in Rio de Janeiro.
She began to suffer epileptic seizures in recent years and one particularly bad one happened while she was cooking pasta and she ended up spilling boiling water on her legs – resulting in a four-month hospital stay. From there she had a Labrador named Zenn close at hand, who would paw at her if a seizure was close.
“When I’m going to have an epileptic attack, she warns me one hour before,” Vervoort previously said. “I don’t know how she feels it.”
Euthanasia is legal in Belgium and other parts of the world such as Switzerland, but the only state in Australia to legalise it so far is Victoria. It offers a choice to competent adults with a terminal illness and six months or less to live. For those dying of neurodegenerative diseases, such as MND or MS, the time frame is extended to twelve months or less to live.
There are strict eligibility criteria that a patient must also meet, which include being over 18 years of age, having decisional capacity and they must raise the issue with a doctor themselves. Three formal requests must also be made, the second in writing, with the minimum timeframe between first request and opportunity to take the medication being ten days.