In Belgium, based on a Parliamentary report issued by the commission fédérale de contrôle et d’évaluation de l’euthanasie (Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia), the number of reported cases of euthanasia “has tended to rise substantially since 2011”.
From 2,086 cases in 2010-2011 – almost 3 a day, 3,239 were reported between 2012-2013, “which corresponds to an average of 1,619 requested cases of euthanasia authorised each year, i.e. 135 a month or 4 to 5 per day”, according to the Belgian information website, lalibre.be.
Targeted disorders. Most of the requests for euthanasia are due to general or severely debilitating cancers (malignant tumours, leukaemia and myeloma) in 73% of cases. These are followed by progressive neuromuscular disorders (multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and even Parkinson’s disease). In 5% of cases, this number is substantially increasing according to the Commission, “the severity of the pathological condition and suffering are due to the co-existence of several incurable diseases”. Finally, the number of euthanasia practices carried out for diseases that are not immediately life threatening remains stable at 13%.
Populations concerned. Most cases of euthanasia involve patients between 40 and 79 years of age. However, since 2011, euthanasia involving patients over 79 years of age has accounted for one-third of the overall number of cases.
However, these figures are not an entirely true reflection of reality. The commission has no way of documenting the number of euthanasia practices carried out “behind the scenes”, i.e. those which are not reported despite the fact that this is a legal requirement. It is therefore impossible to “record the actual number of procedures carried out illegally or to establish whether unreported euthanasia practices are carried out in accordance with the conditions imposed by the law”.
In 2012, Etienne Dujardin, co-ordinator of Dossards jaunes, a citizen’s movement calling for stricter control of euthanasia pointed out that, “Professor Wim Distelmans, co-president of this commission, personally confirmed that almost half of the cases of euthanasia were carried out illegally in Belgium!”. He went on to add: “The control commission has never highlighted any cases that do not comply with legislation. It is statistically surprising, compared to what is happening in the Netherlands… The criteria are becoming increasingly flexible – we can clearly see that there is a spin-off!”. But according to Etienne Dujardin, “civil society is starting to take heed”, referring here to two recent complaints lodged against Professor Wim Distelmans “who performed euthanasia on parents without informing the children”(Gènéthique press review on April 11th, 2014 and on April 25th, 2014).