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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.
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3 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post, this topic is often on my heart. In fact, it may have been something that you wrote about it, that first drew my attention to your work on this blog.

    I read a great op ed piece during the MA election cycle. It pointed to the fact that so often people who chose this path did so out of depression, more than physical suffering. I’m not surprised but it stunned me. If most people were talking about suicide when depressed, we would be working to get them help, not a lethal prescription.

  2. How are those actually involved in the Belgium cases experiencing the legal situation that now exists in that country? Have there been complaints, law suits, claims of scandal etc? Are the Belgiums happy with the law they chose, or are they having second thoughts?

    The fact that you didn’t address the perspectives of those who chose the law and live under it reveals a pattern common to much Catholic thinking. Our writing is so often all about us and what we think other people should do with their lives.

    In that spirit, I will now be a good Catholic and tell my fellow Catholics what they should do with their lives.

    My dear fellow Catholics, heal thyself, before investing so much energy in to trying to fix everybody else. It’s only when people see a very clear difference between the Catholic community and the broader public that we will have the credibility to lecture others. We aren’t there yet. First things first.

  3. This is a very relevant issue in Ireland where our Supreme Court is hearing totally contradictory expert opinion in a case proposing the permitting of assisted suicide: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2012/1212/1224327773835.html

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