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Belgium euthanasia stats show troubling increases, social acceptance

The Belgian euthanasia commission received 12.6 percent more declarations in 2019 as compared with 2018.
Thu Mar 5, 2020 - 9:16 am EST
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March 5, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Belgian euthanasia commission received 12.6 percent more declarations in 2019 as compared with 2018, despite worry on the part of the pro-euthanasia lobby that the first ever public prosecution of the potentially illegal “mercy-killing” of a mentally ill woman would lead to more cautiousness on the part of physicians.

The Tine Nys affair wound up at the end of January with the acquittal of three doctors involved in the “medical” killing of the 38-year-old, but “fear” had set in during the previous months. It was indeed one of the major arguments for the defense that the widely publicized trial had already hampered Belgians’ access to legal euthanasia.

This has now been proved untrue. Two thousand six hundred fifty-five persons were euthanized in Belgium last year. Only five years earlier, in 2015, the threshold of 2,000 yearly euthanasias was crossed. After a period of relative stability, statistics are clearly on the rise, and officials expect the symbolic number of 3,000 legal killings to be reached in the not too distant future.

Patrik Vankrunkelsven, a “LEIF” doctor who as a member of the information forum on chosen death is charged with helping people to obtain information on euthanasia and palliative care during the end of life, told nieuwsblad.be that euthanasia is becoming more and more socially acceptable.

“It is widely supported and accepted. You can’t capsize such an enormous tanker with a little boat like the euthanasia trial,” he said. Vankrunkelsven expects euthanasia statistics to reach a ceiling at some point, but the fact is that in Belgium, obtaining a lethal shot is becoming ever more easy. Besides, doctors can now more or less count on impunity, even when circumstances are questionable, to say the least, and when the euthanized patient’s near and dear ones take them to court, as happened in the Nys affair.

Of the 2,655 cases reported to the official euthanasia commission in 2019, not a single one was disapproved. Seventy-three point six percent were approved without question, 9.8 percent led to enquiries for administrative reasons, and the rest led to medical questions being asked or remarks being made to the executing doctors. But none was forwarded to the public prosecutor.

The cases include one involving a non-emancipated minor whose request was deemed acceptable regarding the law insofar as the young person was considered competent to make that decision. In 2018, two such euthanasias took place, respectively on a 9- and an 11-year-old.

In 2019, 27 patients were killed in application of advance directives, meaning that they were not in a condition where they could repeat a death wish that had been formulated before they lost their mental competence. Their state of unconsciousness was deemed irreversible.

This type of situation can be expected to become more frequent, as the Belgian parliament is in the process of extending the validity of such advance directives or “living wills” indefinitely.

Full details on 2019 euthanasias will become available when the Belgian euthanasia commission publishes its twice-yearly public report over 2018–2019. For the time being, it has published general statistics regarding age, place of execution, sex (over 52 percent of victims are women), and so on.

Strangely enough, 77.3 percent of euthanasias (2.053) were performed in Dutch-speaking Flanders against 22.7 percent (603) in French-speaking Wallonia, even though Flanders represents only about 57 to 60 percent of the total population of fewer than 11.5 million souls. No explanations have been suggested for this discrepancy. Some speculate that this could be linked to improper reporting in Wallonia, or preference in this region for palliative care, or the increased use of terminal sedation, which is not technically counted as euthanasia.

According to executing doctors, a majority (83.1 percent) of euthanasias in 2019 in Belgium were performed on patients who had reached the terminal phase of their illness, while the rest had months or even years to live.

No fewer than eight patients were over 100 years old. But only 67.8 percent of the total were over 70, with the largest single group being the 70- to 79-year-olds (28.4 percent). Under-40s accounted for 1.5 percent of all cases, and almost a third, 30.7, were in the 40 to 69 age bracket.

As a pioneer in legal euthanasia, Belgium has a number of interesting lessons to teach the rest of the world, where euthanasia is becoming more and more widely available, with most recent legal moves in that direction having taken place in Germany and Portugal.

Social acceptance is obviously going together with increased rejection of suffering and also, according to members of the euthanasia commission, with ever larger numbers of elderly people.

Sixty-two pointo five percent of euthanasia victims in Belgium last year had cancer, and 17.3 percent had multiple diseases, while neuropathologies and circulatory and respiratory diseases accounted for some 12 percent.

One point eight percent of all cases — 49 patients — involved no physical illness at all, but psychiatric or behavioral disorders, including cognitive disease.

When euthanasia was made legal in Belgium in 2002, hopeless, unbearable physical suffering was put forward to gain acceptance for the transgressive law. But plain physical suffering was invoked in only 12.8 percent of “mercy-killings” last year. Eighty-two point eight percent involved both physical and psychological suffering. The remaining 4.3 percent involved psychological suffering only. The commission’s official press release makes clear that this should not be confused with psychiatric disorder: the statistic points to people who have a physical illness that does not cause much pain or whose pain can be alleviated through painkillers, but who suffer because of loss of “dignity” or autonomy.

It should be underscored that the head of the Belgian euthanasia commission is an enthusiastic proponent of the “right” to choose death, Pr. Wim Distelmans. Distelmans has personally performed a number of controversial euthanasias, including on a woman who regretted having mutilated her body to look like a man; deaf twins; and a depressed 64-year-old, Godelieve De Troyer, whose family he did not trouble to give prior warning. This is the man who is supposed to check whether the law is being upheld.

In the French-speaking part of Belgium, another well known lobbyist for euthanasia, Jacqueline Herremans, is a member of the federal euthanasia commission. She describes herself on her Twitter account as “pro-choice” and with the words “Ni dieu, ni maître”: “Neither God nor master.”

Things could not be clearer.


  assisted suicide, belgium, euthanasia, modern medicine

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