Should doctors have allowed a sexual abuse victim in her 20s to be euthanised?

Published: May 18, 2016

Perhaps it is the idea that death is so final, so permanent, so abiding. PHOTO: SPL

If there was ever an instance of discussing the moral grey areas when it came to human morality, this would be it.

A woman in Netherlands, in her 20s, was recently given a lethal injection in a case of physician-assisted mercy killing. She was a victim of child sex abuse from the age of five up until the age of 15. She was suffering from severe anorexia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She had multiple problems, said the Dutch Euthanasia Commission, and even though her psychiatric conditions did improve, she had decided to end her life.

The arguments pro and against euthanasia are presented herewith:

Those who argue against euthanasia (and especially in a case like this) say that mental health professionals should not regard the end of life as a ‘cure’ for mental illnesses. Another Labour MP said that it almost sends a message that the punishment for being a victim is death.

There are also other arguments with respect to sanctity of life, that it gives doctors far too much power to decide when to end someone’s life. And instead of letting a person reach a point where they feel that nothing else can save them from their situation but death – there should be more emphasis on palliative care.

Those who argue pro-euthanasia claim that it is a human being’s right to choose what they decide to do with their life. Furthermore, they claim that death is a private matter and the state has no right to intervene in a human being’s decision to end his or her life. They also say that sometimes death is not necessarily a bad thing – and that those who often consider euthanasia are facing a long-term illness, a bad prognosis and are in a state of suffering that can only be ended with life itself.

I cannot claim to know what went on in that girl’s mind, the girl who was a subject of sex abuse from when she was a little child – and how unliveable her life really was. And that’s one of the key problems of euthanasia when done in case of mental illness. Speaking from an existential point of view, each person is seeing the world in his or her own unique way and another human being cannot decide what is right and what is wrong for them. In this case, physician-assisted suicide, in case of mental illness, makes little sense to me. I can however understand the situation as pro-euthanasia, if the condition was physiological. Mainly because when it comes to diseases like terminal cancer that significantly reduce the chances of a human being’s ability to function and live to their fullest potential – the argument for euthanasia may seem sounder.

This is not to say that mental illnesses are not debilitating or that they should be taken lightly – mental illnesses affect human beings profoundly and it affects those who live around them too. This in no way means that mental illnesses cannot cause a human being’s life to deteriorate. It simply means that when it comes to the resolution of mental illness with death – it is precisely what the mental health professionals strive against. Death is and cannot be the answer to fighting mental illness (and in most cases physical illness) – mainly because if that were so, every patient suffering from suicidal thoughts or severe depression may ask for the doctor’s help in ending their lives.

Perhaps it is even more obvious that the debate over euthanasia has sparked in this case because the girl was in her 20s – with her entire life still ahead of her. In cases of terminal illnesses with people who have lead long and full lives, who have seen their children and their children’s children grow up and have had enjoyed the best of life as well as suffered the worst of it – death is not as terminal as it is for the person in her 20s. For the woman in her 20s, who indeed was going through traumatising mental illnesses still had a chance of recovering. She still had the opportunity of finding some moments of happiness in the life that was ahead of her.

Perhaps it is the idea that death is so final, so permanent, so abiding. The idea of euthanasia, regardless of the advancement of science and understanding of the complexity of human morality – still makes many of us feel that if we could stop it from happening to a young person, to a person with many opportunities to avail, we should.

Should doctor have allowed a sexual abuse victim in her 20s to be euthanised?

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Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.