On Wednesday, the Louvain Civil Court in Belgium condemned the management of the Huiez Sint-Augustinus residential home in Diest “for its rejection of euthanasia in August 2011”. The management board was ordered to pay “damages” totalling €6,000 to the family of Mariette Buntjens, “for the prejudice they suffered in having to move their mother so that she could receive euthanasia”.
Mariette Buntjens, aged 74 in 2011 and suffering from terminal phase cancer, had “submitted her request for euthanasia”. A doctor outside the institution carried out her request whilst the co-ordinating physician in the residential home was “left out” and “presented with a mission accomplished”. The managerial board at the residential home defended its decision yesterday by stating that it had “refused euthanasia on religious grounds or beliefs”. It had refused to perform euthanasia “because the conditions required by law were not met” – the patient had not confirmed her request with the co-ordinating physician.
Belgian law has decriminalised euthanasia stating that, “if a care team is in regular contact with the patient, the physician performing euthanasia must agree the patient’s request with the care team or members of the latter”. However, the court held that “the residential home did not have the right to intervene in patient-doctor agreements”.
A similar case has received media attention in Quebec. The McGill University Medical Centre (CUSM) was called to order by the Health Minister because of “its internal policy which allowed its palliative care unit to exempt itself from applying the law on medically assisted dying”. A patient who requested euthanasia was transferred to another unit. The transfer from one unit to another is not “illegal” but “amoral” according to physicians practising “medically assisted dying”. The Government’s attention was drawn to this centre because the reported number of cases of euthanasia was “surprisingly” lower than average. The Ministry for Health viewed this as “an obstruction to medically assisted dying”. It has introduced a directive allowing any health care professional to countersign a medically assisted dying request form, not just doctors.