“Those who will die, salute you”, is what fighters in the gladiator pit supposedly said in ancient times, before fighting to the death in an arena full of bloodthirsty onlookers.
Athlete and silver medalist Marieke Vervoort could have greeted the crowd in the same fashion before her race last week. She is most certainly a fighter. Just like the gladiators of old she does not want to die. And just like them, it is likely she will die before her time. She is an athletic hero, named paralympian of the year in both 2012 and 2015. She also happens to have progressive myelopathy.
She has never made a secret of her feelings towards euthanasia. But when she declared the Rio Olympics would be her last, the interwebz exploded, convinced she was going to celebrate her silver medal on the 400m with a some super special suicide pill that she must have been saving for the occasion.
Last Sunday she took some time at a press conference to explain what she meant and basically told the world to take a chill pill themselves.
She explained how she had indeed signed papers several years ago, giving her the possibility to end her life and that these were partly what had kept her going for so long. Make no mistake, this woman is not choosing the easy way out. She is already dealing with a degree of pain on a daily basis that you and I can’t even begin to fathom. She explained it as follows:
Yes, I have euthanasia paperwork ready. I’ve had them since 2008. Because I can tell you it’s really hard to deal with this disease en endure the pain. But this permission I have for the euthanasia process, which I have in writing and carry with me, gives me a sense of peace. It’s this feeling that helps me live. I can enjoy every moment I have now. But when the time comes that I have more bad days than good days, I will have my euthanasia papers ready. But that moment has not arrived yet.
So, when she said these would be her last olympics she was basically just announcing the end of her topsport career, not the end of her life.
She will continue living her life to the fullest, as she always has. She will continue facing her pain and her progressing paralysis head on, as she will all the hateful fools that feel they have a right to judge her.
As her disease creeps on, she may completely loose her sight (it has already deteriorated to 20% of her original vision) and her epilepsy attacks will become more frequent. The cramps in her body will keep her awake during the night and the wheelchair she sits in will no longer be powered by the muscles in her strong arms. She lives in constant fear, not knowing which part of her body will give in next.
She directed her strong plea for euthanasia at the people and politicians of Brazil and other countries where euthanasia is still a taboo and a crime above that.
I hope people don’t feel [euthanasia] is murder. Just being in the possession of these papers, which is something I obtained legally in my country, gives me tranquility. If I did not have this option I may have already committed suicide.
You don’t just beat your opponents, you beat the odds. You don’t just break your personal (and world) records, you break taboos.
Right on, Marieke. I salute you.