Two Belgian brothers who were born deaf and were slowly going blind chose to end their lives the way they began them: together. The dual deaths of the identical twins last month marked the first reported double euthanasia of twins worldwide.
Marc and Eddy Verbessem, 45, were inseparable during their lives, the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reports. Suffering from an incurable illness, the pair shared a room in their parental home before studying shoe repair and moving in together in a small apartment.
But when Marc and Eddy learned they were slowly going blind in addition to already being deaf, the twins feared losing all possible means of communicating with one another. "The thought of only being able to feel each other was unbearable," Het Laatste Nieuws writes, according to a HuffPost translation.
"Physically, their conditions were strongly deteriorating," Dr. David Dufour, who treated the brothers, explained to VTM. When the brothers learned their bid for euthanasia was accepted, "a weight fell off their shoulders," Dufour added. "They were happy and relieved that a date was set to end their suffering."
Belgium is one of only three countries that allow euthanasia for non-terminally ill patients, the others being Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Belgian law permits euthanasia when a patient declares the assisted suicide to be his or her own wish and doctors agree the patient is in unbearable physical or psychological pain.
The brothers Verbessem's application for assisted suicide was controversial, however, and the first hospital they approached declined their bid. "There is a law, but that is clearly open to various interpretations. If any blind or deaf are allowed to euthanize, we are far from home. I do not think this was what the legislation meant by 'unbearable suffering'," doctors at the first hospital said, according to The Telegraph.
Dirk Verbassem, the brothers' older sibling, told the Telegraph that Marc and Eddy's life had become insufferable. "Many will wonder why my brothers have opted for euthanasia because there are plenty of deaf and blind that have a 'normal' life," he said. "But my brothers trudged from one disease to another. They were really worn out."
De Volkskrant writes that Marc and Eddy were happy and calm on the day of their deaths. They were cremated and buried together in identical urns.
Assisted suicide remains a controversial topic worldwide, even in the case of terminally-ill patients. Last week, an Irish court denied a woman who was terminally-ill with multiple sclerosis the right to end her life.
"It would be impossible to ensure the aged, disabled, poor, unwanted, rejected, etc. would not avail of this option to avoid a sense being a burden on their families and society," Judge Nicholas Kearns told the Court, according to Reuters.
In the UK, 58-year-old Tony Nicklinson died in August 2012, one week after a court denied him the right to assisted suicide. Nicklinson suffered from locked-in syndrome and was paralyzed since 2005. The BBC reported he died from a pneumonia after refusing food.
A court reportedly granted deaf identical twin brothers from Belgium who were about to lose their sight the right to legal euthanasia.
A UZ Brussel hospital spokesperson told Reuters that a doctor administered the lethal injections to 45-year-old twins named Marc and Eddy Verbessem. They had said they wanted to die because they "could no longer bear being unable to hear or see the other."
In order to be allowed to pursue euthanasia, patients in Belgium -- where euthanasia has been legal since 2002 -- must be sound of judgment and must repeatedly and overwhelmingly emphasize their voluntarily want to die, Reuters reported. They must also be suffering persistent and unbearable physical or mental pain beyond physical help, and the illness must be serious and incurable and brought on by sickness or injury.
Despite euthanasia being legal in the country, this case caught the attention of the media because the two brothers were not terminally ill or close to the end of their lives.
"Unbearable suffering can be mental as well as physical," the hospital spokesman said. "The brothers were inseparable. They lived together and had the same job."
The brothers were first turned down by their local hospital and the process took two years before they gained legal approval for euthanasia.
Dr. David Dufour, the doctor for the twins, told the Telegraph that that they had congenital deafness and were soon to be fully blind due to a genetic form of glaucoma. In addition, they had other "severe" medical problems.
"All that together made life unbearable," said Dufor. "I have been very surprised but there is so much interest and debate about this."
The Telegraph reported that the brothers communicated with each other and their immediate family using a special sign language they developed.
"They lived together, did their own cooking and cleaning. You could eat off the floor," Dirk Verbessem, the twins' brother, said to the Telegraph. "Blindness would have made them completely dependent. They did not want to be in an institution."
Dirk added that although the family was opposed to the request to die, they eventually came around and supported the fact that the twins should be allowed to make their own decision.
"I tried to talk them out of it even at the last moment," Dirk said. "Together with my parents, I said goodbye. Marc and Eddy waved again at us. 'Up in the sky,' they said. 'Up in the sky,' we replied. And then it was over."