Euthanasia: the conscience clause of Belgian doctors under threat

Publié le 9 Oct, 2017

The National Council of the Belgian Medical Association issued a statement on 6 May 2017 challenging the law on conscientious objection. It is devising an ethical obligation on the part of doctors to inform patients and to “direct them to a medical establishment likely to treat them” in accordance with their wishes.


 In the case of a patient requesting euthanasia, this involves “an ethical obligation to direct the patient to another doctor in the case of doctors refusing to practise euthanasia“, bringing the principle of conscientious objection back to square one.


 The Belgian law of 28 May 2002 included a conscience clause stating that “no doctor is obliged to practise euthanasia” and “at the request of the patient or the patient’s representative, the doctor must forward the patient’s medical records to the doctor appointed by the patient or the patient’s representative“, without having to direct the patient to another practitioner. Several draft bills have been proposed including the bill of 13 May 2016 which sought to legally impose on doctors what the Medical Association has just imposed from an ethical perspective.


 The European Institute of Bioethics is surprised: “either [the doctor] directs the patient to a doctor or an establishment not in favour of euthanasia and the patient’s wishes will not be granted, or the patient is directed to an establishment or doctor in favour of euthanasia and the original doctor’s conscientious objection is totally devoid of substance“.

Institut Européen de Bioéthique (27/09/2017)

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