Belgian Law on Euthanasia: Towards Even Easier Access

Last October in Belgium, a bill was tabled to extend the conditions permitting euthanasia.

The State Council has voiced reserve on the bill’s three flagship measures.

  1. The validity of advance euthanasia directives would be extended from five years to an unlimited period. The State Council protests that such a measure “reverses the logic”, by encouraging a person’s self-determination at the expense of his life.
  2. A doctor who refuses to perform euthanasia would be required by law to refer his patient to another doctor who would be ready to perform this act. According to the State Council, such a requirement “infringes on a doctor’s freedom of conscience clause […] in that he is forced to facilitate the act of euthanasia”.
  3. Hospitals would not be allowed to conclude agreements with doctors which would prohibit euthanasia on their premises. The State Council declared that such a measure “limits the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the freedom of association for creating these health-care establishments”. Still, the State Council did not request to leave out this measure.

The European Bioethics Institute, which published a critical analysis of these measures, points out that: “a real individual right to have euthanasia performed, is thus gradually established, enforceable against any health-care community, whose right to freedom of conscience would be denied.”

On February 18, the bill was approved by the Health Committee, with discussions planned in plenary session in the upcoming weeks.

For the record, the Belgian parliament legalized euthanasia in 2002.

In 2019, Belgian caregivers, (university professors, nurses, and ethicists) published “Euthanasia, behind the scenes”, a book which clearly outlines the consequences that euthanasia has had on health-care practices. The law has already been amended several times and the number of euthanasia cases is constantly rising. Their book is currently being translated into English and Spanish.

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