Paralympic champion Marieke Vervoort dies by euthanasia

Tom Morgan
Paralympian Marieke Vervoort - Wiktor Dabkowski

Marieke Vervoort, a Belgian Paralympian who won gold at London 2012, has ended her own life through euthanasia after a long and painful battle with a degenerative muscle disease.

The 40-year-old wheelchair racer, who won gold and a silver, suffered  a form of progressive tetraplegia, which caused constant pain, seizures, paralysis in her legs and left her barely able to sleep. In one of her final interviews, Vervoort had told Telegraph Sport: “I don’t want to suffer any more.”

Her death came more than a decade after Vervoort signed papers allowing a doctor to legally end her life in Belgium, where euthanasia is legal. A statement on behalf of officials in her home city of Diest said doctors "responded to her choice on Tuesday evening".

“It’s too hard for me now," she had previously told Telegraph Sport's Oliver Brown in 2017. "I get more and more depressed. I never had these feelings before. I cry a lot. Now even my eyesight is disappearing. An optician saw me and rated one eye two out of 10, and the other just one. He said there was nothing he could do, because the problem was coming from my brain." Her body, she said, had been screaming at her: "I’m in so much pain. I’m done."

In 2012, Vervoort won gold in the T52 100m wheelchair race at London 2012 as well as silver in the T52 200m wheelchair race. At the Rio Paralympics she claimed silver in the T51/52 400m and bronze in T51/52 100m.

The city of Diest said a book of condolence will be accessible in its town hall from Wednesday. British Paralympian Ollie Hynd, who has a similar neurological condition, told BBC Radio 1: "The news of Marieke's death really hit close to home. It's difficult to get your head around. I feel an enormous amount of empathy. Pushing yourself to the limit when you've got a neurological condition is so difficult. There are some days that I wake up in so much pain."

Vervoort, a prominent campaigner for euthunasia, had received royal investiture from King Philippe, plus woman of the year accolades alongside Angela Merkel.  

“If I want something, I go for it," she said in 2017. "I never give up easily. I didn’t want to accept that I would end up in a wheelchair. But in 2000 I couldn’t do it any longer, although I was still able to use my stomach and my back muscles. Even that has become less and less. Now I’m paralysed all the way to my breasts." Her condition began in her Achilles tendons and was expected to eventually deprive her of use of all four limbs.

Doctors believe it originated from a highly rare deformity between her fifth and sixth cerebral vertebrae, but far less understood were her accompanying symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which left her in constant and excruciating pain.

She had an epileptic seizure in 2014 when she was cooking pasta and spilled boiling water over her legs. It resulted in a four-month hospital stay. She became a strong advocate of the right to choose euthanasia, saying she said it gave her control and put “my own life in my hands”.