Belgium: 78% increase in euthanasia in 4 years; over 2000 cases in 2015

The federal control and evaluation commission for euthanasia announced on January 27, 2016, that the number of euthanasia cases officially declared had reached 2,021 in 2015, compared to 1,133 in 2011, therefore an increase of 78.4% during this period.

This commission, charged with verifying the application of the 2002 law decriminalizing euthanasia in Belgium, publishes a complete report every 2 years, but the one covering the years 2014 and 2015 is still currently being drafted.

The preceding report for 2012 and 2013 had already shown a considerable rise in official cases for the preceding years (see the trend p. 14). In addition, the media regularly report more and more numerous abuses on the application of the law, in particular with the euthanasia of depressed individuals who are not at the end of life. The most recent case concerns Laura, a young 24-year old lady, who obtained authorization for euthanasia from three doctors for her “psychological suffering” (she finally renounced to euthanasia on the very day, in September 2015). Several legal proceedings are in process, namely one against a doctor who committed euthanasia on an elderly person who did not fulfill the criteria, or, on the contrary, one against a retirement home for not accepting to practice euthanasia as requested by a 74-year-old woman.

Professor Wim Distelmans, president of the control commission, commented on the 2015 statistics by recognizing that the official euthanasia cases only represent a part of the actual euthanasia acts committed in Belgium: “The number of cases performed but undeclared, remain unknown, which hinders us from having a true view of the full extent of the issue”.

If, by definition, it remains impossible to tally clandestine euthanasia acts, a study carried out by Brussels and Gand University, published in Social Science & Medicine in July 2012, attempted to evaluate this practice: according to this study made among Belgian doctors, the statements to the control Commission only treat 73% of euthanasia cases practiced by Flemish doctors and 58% by Walloon doctors. In other words, 10 years after the law’s implementation, 27% of the euthanasia cases in Flanders and 42% in Wallonia are still not declared.

More generally, the control commission has been subject to heavy criticism these past months, for its negligence in verifying the files filled in by doctors who carry out euthanasia, and for lack of representativeness. At the end of 2015, it could not be renewed within the time frame, due to lack of candidates fulfilling the necessary qualifications

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