Belgium Facing Growing Excesses of Euthanasia

February 27, 2021

A recent publication of the Oxford University Press has found deep deficiencies in the enforcement of the euthanasia law in Belgium, leading to a growing number of “assisted suicides.” A study that highlights the eugenic drift that is being observed in Belgium, as elsewhere.

“We argue that in Belgium a widening of the use of euthanasia is occurring and that this can be ethically and legally problematic.” This is the finding presented in the February 2021 issue of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy published by the Oxford University Press in the UK.

Three researchers from the University of Ghent conducted the investigation which led to the in-depth study entitled Euthanasia in Belgium: Shortcomings of the Law and Its Application and of the Monitoring of Practice.

Kasper Raus, doctor of philosophy specializing in the ethics of end-of-life care, Bert Vanderhaegen, chief chaplain at the University Hospital of Ghent, and Sigrid Sterckx, professor of ethics, are relying on empirical research carried out since decriminalization of euthanasia in 2002, and provide a meticulous analysis of the flaws in this law.

The authors speak with one voice to note a growing recourse to assisted suicide, which, according to them, is explained by a flaw in the application of the intended “procedural guarantees,” now powerless to curb the abuses.

Thus, the three researchers state that “these changes are partly linked to the fact that several conditions of the law on euthanasia, which are supposed to act as safeguards, most often fail to function in this way. We believe this is ethically and legally problematic, and should be of concern to everyone, whatever one may think of euthanasia in general.”

Their conclusion is based on a painstaking analysis of three factors that are supposed to play the role of safeguards: the criterion of admissibility for euthanasia, the consultation of a second or even a third doctor as an expert, the declaration of euthanasia provided to the Federal Control and Evaluation Commission.

The article puts forward that each of these guarantees presents “gaps in theory and in practice,”: with regard to the eligibility for euthanasia, the medical criterion of incurability is diverted, to become a “criterion subjective to the unbearable nature of the proposed treatments.”

As for the compulsory recourse to the opinion of a second or even a third doctor, our researchers point out that this—or these—opinion(s) are not binding. Worse, according to the law, a general practitioner can be considered as a specialist if the patient suffers from multiple pathologies.

An interpretation considered dangerous in the event that, for example, a patient presents a psychiatric illness in addition to other ailments. It could then be that no psychiatrist decides on the request for euthanasia, but only general practitioners.

Finally, the reporting of assisted suicide cases to the Federal Commission for the Control and Assessment of Euthanasia appears incomplete, to put it mildly. 2,656 cases of euthanasia were officially reported to the Commission for the years 2018-2019. However, empirical research estimates that one in three cases of euthanasia was not declared, and that cases of undeclared euthanasia are performed with less precaution.

“Our concern is that the Commission’s current discretion in establishing the legality of euthanasia cases in practice leaves it considerable power which should normally be the prerogative of the legislature or the judiciary,” the article concludes.

An alarming finding that has the merit of removing the mask from a practice supposed to relieve the intolerable suffering of the patient and thus be of service to humanity. Especially since the objective of the legislature in 2002, by decriminalizing euthanasia, was to put an end to clandestine euthanasia and to limit euthanasia to exceptional cases. The article has shown what it actually is.

But this drift should absolutely not surprise. These death laws are meant to always broaden their scope—and that is a recognized tactic. And when a moral principle is abandoned, nothing can hold back misguided humanity on the slope of evil.