Euthanasia in Belgium: the Control Commission ineffective

The federal Commission established to control and evaluate application of the law on euthanasia (for which the mandate expired on October 18, 2015) was not renewed, due to the lack of candidates with all the required conditions.

The composition of this commission is defined by the Law of May 28, 2002, Article 6 relative to euthanasia. Amongst the 16 members, eight must be medical doctors and four university professors. Today the medical doctors are lacking. Actually, in addition to professional qualifications, other conditions are required to respect the internal equilibrium: the balance between men and women, the division between French and Dutch speakers, as well as the diversity of philosophical and religious opinions (1).

However, in an analytical report published by the European Bioethical Institute in 2012, ten years after the application of the law, it is underlined that “in spite of all precautions, it is surprising that almost half the voting members of the Commission are collaborators or members of the Association for the Right to Die in Dignity, an association which openly fights in favor of euthanasia and the expansion of legal conditions.”

Besides, the caseload is constantly increasing: the growing number of euthanasia cases may render the task incompatible with one’s professional responsibilities. According to the latest statistics, the number of declared cases of euthanasia has increased 90% in the past 3 years on record, growing from 953 in 2010 to 1807 in 2013.

The commission has performed verifications, following the statements that the doctors must fill out, after having performed euthanasia. And it is based, as the commission itself admits, on subjective criteria such as the aspect of insupportable suffering or by the level of psychic suffering. The multiple law’s interpretations make verifications inoperative: no case has been sent to the King’s procurer since the existence of the law, which creates serious doubts about the quality of such inspections (2).

One can wonder about this commission’s interest in its work and about the reasons for the lack of candidates, when the recent cases of euthanasia were the subject of intense criticism in the national and international media. For example, in July 2015, a young 24-year-old woman obtained authorization for euthanasia because she suffered from depression. This case constitutes a serious alert in the psychiatric and psychological communities.

One question remains: shouldn’t the law itself and its terms be questioned, and not only the qualification of the Control Commission members, who visibly do not control much of anything?

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  1. Extracts from article 6 of the law May 28, 2002:” the members of the commission are named, by respecting linguistic parity – each linguistic group including at least three candidates of each sex – and assuring a pluralistic representation, by royal decree deliberated in the Council of Ministers, by a double list presented before the Senate, for a renewable term of 4 years.”
  2. Numerous cases of euthanasia remain hidden, as shown by a study carried out by researchers at the Brussels University and Gand University published in Social Science & Medicine in July 2012: and after this study, 10 years after the law was enforced, 27% of the euthanasia cases in Flanders and 42% in Wallonia were not declared. See VITA decoder, “Euthanasia in Belgium”, November 2013.
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