Belgium: the bishops are oppose to an extension of the law on euthanasia

Publié le : 12 March 2013

 In Belgium, where the hearings of experts concerning the extension of the law on euthanasia to minors and people suffering from dementia are under way (Gènéthique press review from 18th to 22 nd of February 2013), the Belgian bishops gave a press conference on Tuesday 6 March "to publicise their point of view ‘as their participation in the public debate’."

Mgr André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles, pointed out that in 2002, "the principal argument used to make this decriminalization acceptable was ‘the freedom of individuals to self-determination’" and today, he continued, people are once again "to plead […] in favour of the extension of this freedom". The Archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles added that "the introduction of euthanasia, far from limiting its effects only to the individual who requests it, changes throughout society the fundamental relationship to life and death; it undermines the vital solidarity of all the citizens with people in suffering" and "likewise puts pressure on the entire medical profession.
Concerning the proposition to extend the law on euthanasia to minors, "the bishops deem that it is strange [that minors] are regarded as legally incapable of certain acts, for example marriage, but now suddenly they are regarded as sufficiently mature to take their own life.
With regard to the extension of the law to people suffering from dementia, Archbishop Léonard points out that "it seems risky to delegate to another person, through a ‘life testament’ in the long term [i.e. the anticipated declaration], the permission to ‘decide on our behalf when we will be suffering from dementia’ to proceed with our euthanasia." Dr Catherine Dopchie, an oncologist and director of a palliative care unit, explained during this press conference: "if the anticipated declaration of the request for euthanasia is unlimited in duration for the ‘loss of consciousness of oneself’, euthanasia will be carried out based on the document, without knowing what the person was experiencing at that moment."  
Archbishop Léonard adds: "rather than resolving the question of how to “die well’ by leaving it up to each one to organise […] their ‘departure from life’, would it not be more humane for us all to show solidarity with the trial they are undergoing, by looking at them in a way that confirms their dignity and by actively seeking to reduce the suffering they are enduring?
For the Belgian bishops, palliative care is the alternative to euthanasia. Archbishop Léonard explains: "Our position does not mean ‘opting for suffering,’ which is destructive, or denying the existence of individual freedom. Our positive proposal is the option for ever more effective palliative care remote from any futile medical care. And, just as positively, we support the primacy of ‘freedom to show solidarity’ over so-called ‘solitary’ freedom that is finally so hard on others."

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