What a tragedy. Another episode in the seemingly relentless advance of assisted suicide. This time a 20-year-old Dutch woman, a survivor of sexual abuse, persuaded doctors to administer a lethal injection. She reasoned that her life was untenable and death the only way out.
UK press reports said her symptoms included severe anorexia, chronic depression, hallucinations, and compulsions, It is claimed they left her mostly bedridden. (1) The Daily Mail quoted her psychiatrist who said 'there was no prospect or hope for her. The patient experienced her suffering as unbearable'. 2 To pronounce hope extinct is a frightening judgement.
Certainly, survivors of sexual abuse suffer from deep grief; was she offered the kind of support such a survivor needs? The first and obvious question to ask is whether a 20- year-old can claim sufficient knowledge of available treatment options to countenance death as the only viable path. Twenty is a very vulnerable age. My own personal memories of life at twenty might be relevant here. I faced the call up for service in Vietnam. The Australian government conducted a lottery with birthdays drawn in a lottery ballot. My overwhelming sense was that I was seriously ill-equipped with knowledge and experience to think through the issues at stake.
'If death is sought/offered to escape the pain of sexual abuse, incest, rejection, loneliness, what kind of choice is that?' asks the Australian researcher Melinda Tankard Reist. She sees a 'slippery slope'. 'In the Netherlands and Belgium, the laws were originally very strict and limiting. But over time they have relaxed to include those people without a terminally ill condition: teens; children; babies; abused, lonely, isolated women.' 3 Dr Yael Margolia Rice a sexual trauma counsellor comments: 'I would never say that, over the long term, anyone is absolutely untreatable.' 4 The opinion of both Rice and Tankard Reist is that while the trauma suffered is excruciating and runs deep, people do recover even if it may require a couple of decades of help.
As Christians we have no choice but to believe that nothing is outside the scope of God's love and grace. Rick Warren once put it this way: 'What gives me the most hope every day is God's grace; knowing that his grace is going to give me the strength for whatever I face, knowing that nothing is a surprise to God.' The tragedy here is that it's entirely possible that this young sufferer did not hear, or was not able to hear, the story of God's grace and may have entered a lost eternity.
Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' The Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross once said, 'When you are burdened, you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted.' 5 Our faith teaches us to discern the image of God in those who suffer; they are precious even if 'flawed masterpieces' (to borrow a phrase from John Wyatt).