Michel Petillo

I am not my body - A story on euthanasia
Location: Brussels
Nationality: Belgian
Biography: Michel is a Brussels-based freelance fine art and documentary photographer  (°1971). He is half Italian, half Dutch.He began photography with the Berlin School of Photography (Bettina Von Kameke) in 2009. In 2014, Michel attended a... read on
Public Story
I am not my body - A story on euthanasia
Copyright michel petillo 2021
Date of Work 08/04/16 - Ongoing
Updated 12/11/18
Location Brussels


This photo documentary, a portrait of Claire C., sheds a light on living with impairment and pain, and the freedom and courage to find a solution regardless of the moral and legal indictments. It sets out to document that euthanasia, contrary to suicide, is not triggered by a severe depressive state. It is a conscious decision and a deeply human journey where the dichotomy of right and wrong must make way for compassion and hope.

Project description

In the summer of 2016, I met Claire C. a then 33-year-old wheelchair-bound woman, suffering from severe debilitating pains in her right foot, epilepsy and spastic quadriplegia - a form of spastic cerebral palsy. Since the age of six, her life has been about life-threatening accidents, invasive operations, severe painkillers, and ultimately wanting to end her life. Nevertheless, she remains hopeful, owns an apartment, hosts refugees, travels the globe and is a theatre performer.

Ever since the pains in her foot started in 2012, she has been seeking a diagnosis and an effective treatment as medical specialists could not find anything physically wrong. They attributed the pain to past trauma and referred her to mental health care as a last resort. In 2017, one physician took up her case again. He anesthetized locally the main nerve in her leg to see whether the pain was “real”. The intervention revealed the pain to be the result of nerve damage, most likely due to the invasive operations to treat her spastic quadriplegia. This discovery cleared the way for a spinal neurostimulator implant in the autumn of 2017. Initially the procedure appeared to be a success but a few weeks later, the pains reoccurred, and Claire, once again, expressed her wish to recommence the procedure for active euthanasia. In March 2018, she discovered the potent analgesic powers of cannabis oil or CBD-oil, which is considered an illicit substance in Belgium. This new glimmer of had hope put euthanasia on hold once more, as this solution might significantly reduce her pain medication and to regain control of her body and life. However, also this solution was short lived.

Ultimately, and ideally, this body of work will contribute to the discussion on euthanasia and will convey a message of hope instead of despair. In Claire’s words, this entire journey is “an act of liberation”.

 Michel Petillo - I am not my Body
This photo documentary, a portrait of Claire Coché, sheds a light on living with impairment and pain, and the freedom and courage to find a solution regardless of the moral and legal indictments. It sets out to document that euthanasia, contrary...

Also by Michel Petillo —


In search of the invisible enemy.

By Michel Petillo — A visual diary of the Covid-19 lockdown of Brussels Belgium has been in the grip of lockdown since midday,..

Still Living in times of Corona

By Michel Petillo — DYI still life set up - no studio conditions. Flash did not fire. The Teddy might be a mystery for some. In..

All things Covid-19

By Michel Petillo / Brussels


By Michel Petillo / Paris — Replying to Visura's quest for pics on shopkeepers in Europe.  Shopkeepers Paris - Visura


By Michel Petillo / Ireland — Three and a half years down the line, the Brexit project, fuelled essentially by UK right-wing party..

The end of Coal

By Michel Petillo / Hambach forest Germany — Reality Check on the Energiewende During the UN climate negotiations at the 23rd Conference of the Parties..

Frej * a

By Michel PETILLO — This is an ongoing project on trans-identity. 

Station Island - A photo essay on devotion and penance

By Michel PETILLO / Lough Derg — Introduction Going to Lough Derg Island as a photographer is, I guess, my attempt to find big magic, to..
Join us
For more access