When my producer, Tim Peach, suggested we go to Belgium to interview a Paralympic wheelchair athlete who had a terminal illness and was planning euthanasia, I didn’t know what to expect. What I definitely didn’t expect was that the trip would involve laughter, cava, being criticised for my driving, pressing a panic button to summon medical staff, and a new determination to enjoy every little moment of life. But then Marieke Vervoort is not a typical interviewee.
You can read and listen to her story and feel desperately sad for her; at 37, suffering such agonising pain that she wakes her neighbours by crying in the night, and choosing to end her life because, as a young independent woman, she cannot bear the thought of her condition leaving her in a care home “with old people”. I certainly cried on several occasions, particularly with her friend Lieve and her parents, Jos and Odette. Just imagine, as a parent, knowing that your child has chosen to die. They accept her decision but it is clearly very far from easy for them.
You might feel uncomfortable with the concept of euthanasia – death at the hand of a doctor rather than by natural causes. Some people living with disability fear that it defines their lives as lacking in value. But Marieke has made an individual decision which is quite legal in Belgium, unlike in the UK and most other countries in the world. We didn’t seek to debate the rights and wrongs of assisted dying – Parliament did that in 2015 and decided not to change the law. We just wanted to focus on Marieke, her choice, and the effect it is having on those around her.
She is one of the most life-enhancing people I’ve ever interviewed. At the point when she lost consciousness – a terrifying moment for Tim, our cameraman Tony and me – we’d been laughing and joking just seconds before. When she came round, after being given oxygen by her nurses, we asked if she was happy for us to broadcast the footage. She immediately said yes – this is her life, and she wanted us to show it, warts and all. She is living moment by moment, and while the good ones outweigh the bad ones, she wants to live them to the full. It is an honour to tell her story.
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Eleanor Oldroyd is one of the most experienced and respected broadcasters in the business. Eleanor’s latest articles.