Discussion: Euthanasia for the Mentally Ill?

One of the subjects I’m studying in college is criminology, which is a subject that draws on sociological and psychological aspects to determine the social characteristics and behaviour of a criminal. It’s an incredibly fascinating subject and one that I’m thoroughly enjoying learning about. For the next two weeks, we’re having guest speakers coming to discuss euthanasia with us. Euthanasia, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, is the intentional act of ending one’s own life and seeking help in order to do so. One of the speakers is an extremely brave lady who is sharing her experience of taking her own father to Dignitas, the euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, and the traumatic events after she returned to the UK where she and her son almost faced fourteen years in prison for the act of accompanying her father to Switzerland so he could end his own life.

In preparation for this talk, we’ve been discussing euthanasia in class and exploring the different types of people and the reasons for which many have opted to end their own life. When you hear the term euthanasia, you may think of someone who is elderly and in failing health or someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Would you have ever considered someone with a mental illness? Hear me out – we discussed a gentleman, Mark Langedijk from The Netherlands, who had suffered from addiction for most of his life. His marriage had ended and he was unable to see his children, which sent him spiralling further into his addiction to alcohol. He had been to rehab over twenty times but was never able to beat his addiction. Eventually, he chose to end his life in a clinic where euthanasia is legal as he didn’t believe that he was ever going to get better. If he’s been through rehab twenty times already, what’re the chances that the twenty-first time is going to work? He believed his quality of life was severely impacted.

If you would like to read more about Mark Langedijk and to hear his brother speak, click here and here.

‘Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.’ Christian D. Larson

This got me thinking about how the world sees mental illness. There’s still such a stigma surrounding mental illness that it’s rarely seen as valid as a ‘physical’ illness. What people fail to realise is that the brain is an organ, much like the heart and liver, and this too can fail. Why is heart failure considered physical health but depression is not? Why is cancer considered physical health and addiction is not? Since the brain is an organ, it is physical health.

The discussion we had in class was whether or not, in the case of the Mark Langedijk, should he have been ethically allowed to choose the right to die? Was he in a sound mind to make that decision? It raises the question as to whether someone suffering from a mental illness, who sees their quality of life as limited, should be allowed to have the right to die under euthanasia laws. How can we decriminalise suicide (as per UK law – I’m not so sure about the laws regarding this in other countries), but criminalise euthanasia? One of the arguments raised in class was about how individuals who are suicidal will find a way to die regardless of whether it’s assisted or not, which does mean that they choose more violent and horrific ways to end their life. The argument that mental illnesses should be included in euthanasia laws takes away those violent and gruesome deaths. This is not just limited to those who are suicidal but can also apply to those with terminal illnesses, such as cancer and dementia, which then takes us to another argument for euthanasia that is not entirely relevant to this post.

My personal opinion is that while I do believe mental illness is a physical illness and needs to be treated as such, mental illness should not be considered under euthanasia law. While, yes, there are mental illnesses that can never be cured and only managed, it is the fact that they can be managed which makes the difference. They don’t have to mean a death sentence, although that is in no way meant to take away from the fact that living with them can be unbearable. In the case mentioned above where he suffered from addiction, my question would not be about how hard he tried to fight it but rather on the rehab facilities he went to and the medical professionals that were treating him. How hard did the system try to help him? Mental illness is massively underfunded, particularly in the UK (I mention the UK because it’s the healthcare system that I know about), and it’s not uncommon for people to be failed by the medical professionals whose care they have been assigned to due to a lack of funding and education on what mental health is and how to treat it. It’s something I have a personal experience with. I’ve felt completely alone and helpless in my fight with anxiety. I cannot even begin to imagine how a person dealing with suicidal thoughts may feel in that situation, but, if it’s anything like how I felt, then it’s incredibly upsetting and it proves that more needs to be done to support people in that situation so that they don’t feel as though the world will be better off without them. Maybe if we supported people with mental illness much more than we are now and if there was less stigma attached to these illnesses, maybe people wouldn’t feel as though ending their life is the only option they have.

And now, to you, the one struggling with suicidal thoughts – you are brave and strong and inspiring. Yes, you. Fighting your own mind, which can sometimes feel as though it’s not yours, is incredibly difficult. How can your own brain be revolting against you when its job is to take care of you? It can feel like a betrayal. I want you to know that the world won’t be better off without you. You bring something incredible to this world simply by existing. You were meant for amazing things. You deserve the world and more. Anyone else who says otherwise, which includes yourself, is, to put it bluntly, wrong. You can make it through.

‘Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better.’ Unknown

If you’re struggling, please consider calling one of the confidential support lines:

Samaritans – 116 123 (UK)

Papyrus – 0800 068 41 41 (UK)

Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 (USA)

Crisis Service Canada – 1-833-456-4566

Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14

For more international numbers, click here.

What are your thoughts on euthanasia? Do you agree or disagree with anything in this post? I know this is a rather controversial discussion post, but I would love to know what you think about it. There is no right or wrong answer. And I’d especially love to know what you think if you are a person who is – or has been – suicidal. Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. I really enjoyed reading your post Kelly!!! I have thought about euthanasia quite a bit relating to physical disabilities (as I am disabled and it’s talked about quite a bit in the community), but I have never thought about it for the mentally ill. It definitely poses a different question. I have always thought that euthanasia for the disabled shouldn’t be as taboo as it is. It’s incredibly hard to live in a disabled body. I think I agree with you about euthanasia for the mentally ill though. I have struggled with dysthymia (a form of depression), anxiety, and suicidal ideation for the past decade. I have only recently gotten it under control and for the first time in a very long time I feel good about my life. If I had given up in the last decade and committed suicide, I wouldn’t be here today to enjoy my life. But I could also see where for some this could be a viable option… It’s an interesting subject. Great post! You’re really brave for posting it!!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I completely agree that euthanasia for the disabled shouldn’t be such a taboo subject. I’m of the opinion that if you can decriminalise suicide, you shouldn’t be able to criminalise euthanasia for those that need and want it. If no one else has ever said it to you then I will – I’m glad you decided not to end your life. It’s amazing to hear that you’ve managed to get it under control and you’re enjoying your life. It’s stories like your that are incredibly inspiring.

  2. What a great post, Kelly! You discussed this difficult topic with sensitivity and I can see that a lot of thought went behind writing this post. I do agree with you that mental illness is severely underfunded which is a huge problem in the long run because it affects so many people, many more than we think. I can only hope that the public health sector starts paying more attention to it in the future and I think the various campaigns run by NGOs are a step in the right direction to better understand mental illness.

    1. Thank you so much! I was so nervous about posting so your comment has really made me feel so much better about it. Here’s hoping that more can be done to help those of us with mental illnesses and to raise the profile of what it truly means. I think we’re starting to get there but it’s a slow process.

  3. I love reading stuff like this, it was such an interesting thing to discuss on your blog. Being a student at university of mental health counselling I completely understand where you are coming from. It’s not right I think that he had to get to that point where he just didn’t want to live anymore…


    1. Thank you so much! Mark’s story is so upsetting and I can’t even begin to imagine how defeated and hopeless he must have felt to get to that point. It’s because of his story that I really felt as though it was such an important topic to discuss.

  4. I’m currently doing an undergraduate degree in psychology so this is super interesting to me. I agree with euthanasia in some situations but this is a really interesting discussion and I think I agree with you that those with mental health issues shouldn’t be considered for it. It’s definitely a tough one though and would possibly vary with every scenario

    Soph – https://sophhearts.com x

    1. That’s amazing – I’m hoping to do a psychology with clinical and health psychology degree in September! It’s one of the reasons why I wrote the post because we’ve been discussing it a lot in my classes. I completely agree with you that it varies with every scenario – it should all be decided on an individual basis. Thanks so much for commenting!

  5. I haven’t been reading much blog post recently because uni (*cries*) buth oh my gosh, I’m so so happy I read this in between my classes 💞
    I first came across euthanasia in Me Before You, which I ugly cried the whooole second half, and I always had this feeling like something about the concept bothered me but I can’t really weave them into the right words. Years later, finally, that quote at the end summed it up perfectly. Thank you for writing this, it’s such a thought-provoking post and one we all need to talk more about.

    1. Aw, Kate, thank yoooou!
      I totally know the feeling, my blog hopping has been horrendous thanks to school 😭
      I’ve never read Me Before You but I think I’m going to have to now and I’ll most definitely be ugly crying through it if it’s one of those books!
      I was so nervous about posting this and the longer it stays up, the more anxious I get. Thank you so much for your comment! 💜

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