Belgium: resignation from the Commission for Euthanasia Control

Publié le 15 Jan, 2018

In Belgium, a decision taken by the Commission fédérale de contrôle de l’euthanasie (CFCEE – Federal Commission for Euthanasia Control) has led to the resignation of one of its members – a consultant and advocate of euthanasia. He commented that, “This Commission does not do what it is supposed to do. It acts like a judge. It does not extend application of euthanasia legislation – it violates it”. The decision in question concerned a female patient suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease. She was euthanized “at her family’s request”, without even asking for her opinion or the opinion of a second doctor who was consulted only after the patient’s death. Given this “manifest double violation of the law”, the Commission did not take the case to court because the required two-thirds’ majority was not reached: “It seems that the 6 (out of 16) members who did not want to take this case to court did not do so based on belief that they were acting in accordance with the law, but because of a political desire to defend euthanasia under any circumstances whatsoever, even in cases of severe dementia. They also feared that legal referral would slow down the practice of euthanasia even more in Wallonia”.


For Willems Lemmens, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and member of the Belgian Bioethics Advisory Committee, “this case confirms the ‘unhealthy sacralisation’ of euthanasia in our society. Neither the doctors nor the family of the deceased considered their behaviour as reprehensible and the Commission proved them right despite the fact that legal conditions had been violated”. Furthermore, this case “is only the tip of the iceberg” as a number of euthanasia cases are not reported to the Commission for Control. Willems Lemmens believes that a  “small minority of fanatical doctors” within the Commission are  “holding the medical world to ransom”. More and more doctors are  “testifying to the moral pressure they are experiencing. Since euthanasia is increasingly perceived by the general public as a right over the death of an individual and family members, the practitioners’ therapeutic freedom and conscience are actually being put to the test”. In his opinion, society should “listen to the doubts and questions raised by doctors”.


In early December, a draft bill to evaluate the law[1] was proposed by two MPs who question “the effectiveness and rigour of the Commission’s control”. They are asking the government to set up a multidisciplinary team of researchers “whose mission will be to evaluate euthanasia legislation, euthanasia practices and palliative sedation”. A second bill was proposed in mid-December in an attempt to  “clarify the application of palliative sedation in Belgium”.



[1] Belgian legislation governing euthanasia has never been evaluated in the 15 years since its inception.

Institut Européen de Bioéthique (27/12/2017)

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