Yet Another Slippery Slope: A Report on Ten Years of Euthanasia in Belgium
We often hear that worries about a euthanasia slippery slope are unfounded–especially when discussing public policy initiatives like Massachusetts’ recently-defeated Death with Dignity Act.
In a previous post I’ve shown just how steep the slope has been in the Netherlands, but this is just the tip of the European euthanasia iceberg. Belgium has had legal euthanasia only since 2002, but a new report from the European Institute of Bioethics claims that regulations designed to strictly limit euthanasia have already become “trivialized.” If you do not wish to read the whole report, Bioedge has a nice summary here:
The central theme of the report is the ineffectiveness and bias of the body established by the legislation to allay the misgivings of the public by monitoring and controlling euthanasia. After 10 years and about 5,500 cases, not one case has ever been referred to the police. It is illusory, says the IEB, to expect doctors to denounce their own failings.
Furthermore, as has happened in other regulatory contexts, Belgium’s 16-member Commission for Control and Assessment (which is supposed to help enforce the laws designed to limit slippage) is packed with activists in favor of the right to die. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there is an “absence of any effective control and the ever‐widening interpretation which the Commission intends to give the law.” Here are some examples of what this very steep slope has already produced in Belgium in just a few years:
- A written declaration of a desire for euthanasia is required, either by the patient or a surrogate. However, the Commission often waives this obligation.
- Initially patients had to have a life‐threatening and incurable illness. Nowadays, the illness need only be serious and debilitating.
- The pain is supposed to be unbearable, unremitting and unrelievable. However, a patient can refuse medication to relieve the pain. The Commission, says the IEB, has “decided not to carry out its mission ‐ so central to the law ‐ of verifying the unbearable and unrelievable nature of the suffering”.
- The ambit of “psychological suffering” is ever-expanding.
- Doctor-assisted suicide is not authorised by 2002 legislation. However, the Commission has ignored this and regularly signs off on such cases.
- If a patient is to be euthanased at home, the doctor himself is supposed to fetch the lethal medications at a pharmacy from a registered pharmacist and to return left-over drugs. In practice, family members often get the drugs; unqualified personnel hand them over; and no checks have ever been made about surplus drugs.
There was a battle won in Massachusetts this past election cycle, but the war still remains very much in doubt. As we continue to stand for authentic, non-violent compassion for vulnerable populations who are sick (and/or at the end of life), let us keep the examples of the Netherlands and Belgium ready to hand.