Man seeks euthanasia to end his sexuality struggle

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Media caption,

The 39-year-old seeking euthanasia said the hardest thing would be telling his family

A gay man in Belgium is trying to end his life because he cannot accept his sexuality. He told the Victoria Derbyshire programme he wanted to be granted euthanasia on the grounds of extreme psychological suffering.

Sébastien has thought carefully about the moment he hopes his life will come to an end.

"The moment when they put the drip in my arm - I'm not worried about that," the 39-year-old explains. "For me, it's just a kind of anaesthesia."

Sébastien, whose name we have changed to protect his identity, is from Belgium - where euthanasia has been legal since 2002.

There were 1,807 confirmed cases of euthanasia in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available.

The majority of cases are elderly people suffering from terminal illnesses including cancer - only 4% were suffering from psychiatric disorders.

Euthanasia in Belgium

For physical illness two doctors must agree a patient can be euthanised

Psychiatric cases require three doctors to agree

Patients requesting euthanasia must be legally competent and conscious

They must also be making a voluntary request

And they must be suffering incurable, constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering

Sébastien has undergone 17 years of therapy, counselling and medication and believes he has no other option.

He claims to be attracted to young men and adolescent boys and is scarred from a difficult childhood; his mother was ill and there was a strict Catholic ethos.

"My whole life has led me to this, really," he says. "My mother had dementia, so I wasn't right, mentally.

"All that was instilled in me, so I was extremely lonely, extremely withdrawn, very inhibited physically - scared to go out, scared of being seen, all the time scared, hugely shy.

"And growing up, I met a boy and I fell crazy in love. We were both 15. And it was just unbearable for me, you know? I didn't want to be gay."

'Permanent suffering'

For Sébastien, or anyone else in Belgium who seeks euthanasia as an option, it is not as simple as asking a doctor and being granted a lethal injection.

The law states that patients must demonstrate "constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering".

In psychological cases, three doctors must agree that euthanasia is the right option.

Nevertheless, Sébastien remains determined to pursue it.

"I have always thought about death. Looking back on my earliest memories, it's always been in my thoughts. It's a permanent suffering, like being a prisoner in my own body," he says.

"A constant sense of shame, feeling tired, being attracted to people you shouldn't be attracted to - as though everything were the opposite of what I would have wanted."

There is widespread public support for the euthanasia law in Belgium and the number of approved cases has risen year by year since it came into effect in 2002.

In 2014, the law was amended to allow euthanasia for terminally-ill children.

But there is debate among the medical profession about whether it should be an option for people who are mentally ill.

Psychiatrist Caroline Depuydt, who works at the Clinique Fond'roy psychiatric hospital in Brussels, prefers to encourage patients to seek further treatment.

"We always have something that could work. Time, medication, psychotherapy - something that we must try and keep going with that. And the psychiatrist must give hope to the patient that it's never finished," she says.

"It's a very difficult law, it's a philosophical and ethical question, very deep and there is no one good answer."

Psychological problems

Each death as a result of euthanasia in Belgium is reviewed after the event by a committee of lawyers and doctors.

For Gilles Genicot, lecturer in medical law at the University of Liege, and member of the euthanasia review committee, Sébastien's case does not fulfil the legal criteria for euthanasia.

"It's more likely he has psychological problems relating to his sexuality. I cannot find a trace of actual psychic illness here.

"But what you cannot do is purely rule out the option of euthanasia for such patients.

"They can fall within the scope of the law once every reasonable treatment has been tried unsuccessfully and three doctors come to the conclusion that no other option remains."

Sébastien's request for euthanasia has been accepted initially, he now faces further assessments to determine whether his case fits within the law.

Asked whether there is any chance he will reconsider, or take a different path, he is sceptical.

"If someone could give me some kind of miracle cure, why not? But for now, I really don't believe it any more. And I'm too exhausted also, whatever may be out there."

Although he is calm - almost matter of fact - about wanting to end his life deliberately, he acknowledges the effect this will have on the people around him.

"The hardest thing now is telling my family. If I get a yes, that's what's going to be most delicate."

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00-11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.