In line with the news that we learned in 2022 about the death by euthanasia of the young Belgian girl Shanti DeConte, who survived the attacks at the Brussels airport but fell into depression, we make our bioethical reflection on this unacceptable practice.
The young woman, only 23 years old, was euthanized on May 7, 2022 and died accompanied by her family. The fact that she was so young and that she did not suffer from any physical illness generated a great deal of controversy.
Six years earlier, on March 22, 2016, an event occurred that traumatized her to the point of ending up requesting euthanasia. She was at the Brussels airport about to leave on a trip with her schoolmates when she suffered an attack. Terrorists detonated two bombs that killed 16 people, and although she was not injured, she was traumatized for life.
It was not the first time that she suffered serious psychological problems, since she had previously been admitted to a psychiatric center, but the attack accentuated her fragile mental health.
A few weeks after the attack, Shanti was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Antwerp, where in 2018 she was the victim of an attempted sexual assault by another patient. This aggravated her illness and caused her to attempt suicide.
As she said on social media, she took up to 11 antidepressants every day: “With all the medication I’m taking, I feel like a ghost who no longer feels anything. Perhaps there are other solutions besides drugs.”
In the year 2020 she tried to commit suicide again. As her condition worsened, the medication she was taking increased.
Her five best friends, who were also at the airport at the time of the attack and were having trouble coping with the tragedy, participated in a “Therapeutic Week”. This project, organized by Myriam Vermandel, offered medical and therapeutic care to the victims of the Brussels attacks. Although her friends attended, Shanti DeCorte declined the invitation and contacted an association that defended the “right to die with dignity.”
In April 2022, she submitted a request for euthanasia for “irrevocable psychiatric conditions”, which was approved by two psychiatrists. And finally, in May of that same year, she was euthanized and died.
In Belgium, euthanasia is legal as long as the request is voluntary, well-considered, repeated and written. The patient must be in a situation of unbearable mental and physical suffering, the result of an incurable medical condition. In 2021, only 1.9% of euthanasia requests in Belgium were from people with mental problems.
Previously, we have commented in the Bioethics Observatory on the tendency observed in countries where euthanasia practices are legalized. In these countries there is greater tolerance when it comes to including patients not affected by terminal or incurable diseases, such as mental illnesses, as candidates for euthanasia.
The application of euthanasia to patients with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, as in this case, reveals, once again, the sinister face of this practice. Far from assisting psychiatric patients to try to reverse their illness, or at least alleviate it, the choice is to eliminate the patient instead of trying to cure him.
This type of practice shows that euthanasia is not really a medical act because it is based on omitting the attention and care that the suffering patient, terminal or not, demands.
The extension of euthanasia to children incapable of admitting an informed consent supposes an attack against the freedom and dignity of the person, unjustifiable in any case.