Euthanasia: where exactly is Belgium heading?

Publié le : 22 November 2013

 The Belgian law passed on 28 May 2002 and authorising euthanasia imposes the following condition, namely that the patient must be suffering from a "serious, incurable disease".          

Eleven years later, an extension to the practice is about to be approved (Gènéthique press review on November 18th, 2013), but numerous spin-offs have been noted. This new legislation could also challenge doctors’ freedom of conscience. In fact, "the law could compel doctors objecting to this practice to recommend a colleague advocating euthanasia to patients wishing to end their lives". 
The weekly journal, famille chrétienne highlights flagrant spin-offs observed in Belgium. 
On the one hand, these are spin-offs interpreted on the basis of legal provisions. The Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia seems to increasingly ignore the criterion of a "serious and incurable disease" (1). Old age and weariness "have become conditions for euthanasia’ " explains Dr. Dopchie (2). The same applies for "constant, intolerable physical and mental suffering", perceived by the Commission as a "subjective notion", and which comes back every time to “the anticipation of future suffering," points out Etienne Montero (3). The case of 45 year-old male twins "born deaf and administered euthanasia in 2012 because glaucoma was going to make them blind" is a key example (Gènéthique press review on January 14th, 2013 and Gènéthique press review on January 21st, 2013).           
These legal spin-offs can be explained by the fact that the Commission exerts its control a posteriori, and the Prosecution Service does not pursue cases where the law has been transgressed and doctors "publicly declare" […] that they are not reporting the practice of euthanasia". It should also be noted that members of the Control Commission are mostly "members or […] partners of the ADMD", such as, for instance, Jacqueline Herremans, President of the Belgian ADMD (Association for the Right to Die with Dignity).       
On the other hand, professional spin-offs manifesting in the form of clandestine euthanasia practices, as pointed out by Dr Dopchie who has witnessed "accelerated treatments" comprising "excessive overdosing with analgesics" but "culminating in the death of patients unbeknown to the latter and their families". 
Finally, the last but certainly not the least spin-off comes to the fore when patients claim the "right" to benefit from euthanasia, which some people "view as alternative treatment". And inevitably because "supply creates demand" according to Etienne de Montero. 
Few Belgians are actually aware of these spin-offs, but the voices of universities, lawyers, healthcare professionals and fellow citizens are beginning to be heard thanks to the Internet website called "euthanasieStop". As far as Michel Ghins, one of the persons responsible for the project, is concerned, "the site gives citizens an opportunity to openly discuss any misgivings they may have with regard to this legislation or a decision taken by a relative".     

(1) "some members of the Commission estimated that suffering and the demand for euthanasia were linked more so to natural consequences associated with age than to the patients’ conditions": Fifth Report of the Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, presented to the Belgian legislative chambers in 2010-2011         
(2) Oncologist and Head of the Palliative Care Unit at the Centre Hospitalier de Wallonie picarde (Walloon Picardy Hospital Centre) in Tournais
(3) Dean of the Namur Faculty of Law and author of the work entitled, "Rendez-vous avec la mort. Onze ans d’euthanasie légale en Belgique" (Appointment with death. Eleven years of euthanasia in Belgium).

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