Marieke Vervoort is a true hero.
The 37-year-old Belgian athlete, who lives with a degenerative muscle condition that makes it difficult for her to eat and sleep, is competing in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, where she's already won the silver medal for the T52 400m race. The T52 category is for athletes who have limited or no mobility below their waists and who have impaired motor skills in their arms and hands.
But what the media is talking about isn't her win — it's her openness on her decision to die by euthanasia, which she got approval for in her native Belgium in 2008.
Belgium's Marieke Vervoort reacts on the podium after receiving the silver medal for the women's 400 m (T52) of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on September 10, 2016. (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
But contrary to reports, Vervoort isn't choosing to end her life as soon as the Rio Paralympics ends. "Totally out of the question," she told reporters at a media conference on the weekend.
Although she confirmed that this would be her last Paralympics, Vervoort says she won't choose to die by euthanasia "yet."
"It’s very hard to live with so many pain and suffering and this unsureness," she told reporters. "I am still alive and still going to enjoy every little, little moment of my life.”
She continued: “I hope that other countries, like Brazil, can talk about it, that it is not taboo anymore. Like me, I signed my papers in 2008. Look now, we are in 2016 and I won yesterday a silver medal. It’s really a wonder. So, I am really happy."
But knowing that she has the option to die by euthanasia has allowed her to have the ability to control her future, and compete at a high level, she said. "When I didn’t have those papers, I would have committed suicide."
Vervoort also wants to educate people about euthanasia and assisted suicide, which remain illegal in most of the world, aside from a handful of countries. Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, and Luxembourg, while assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Canada, and in the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, and California.
“It is really difficult to get those papers,” Vervoort said. “You have to see different doctors for them to see that you have a progressive disease or a mental disease. You need three different signatures from doctors and to talk with a psychiatrist to see if it is really what you want.”
The athlete was just 15 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare progressive muscle condition that resulted in paraplegia.
According to The Guardian, she will have to get further approval from doctors if she decides she can't bear the pain any longer.
"I have a progressive disease," she said. "Every year, it is worse. Every time, I give things away. If you see me years ago, I could draw beautiful art. Now it is impossible. I see 20 per cent. What’s the next thing coming? I am really scared."
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