Further Extension of Euthanasia in Belgium

On March 5th the Belgian Federal Parliament voted to further extend legislation in favor of increasing access to euthanasia. The revised law also plans to eliminate conscientious objection for healthcare professionals.

It should be underscored that the State Council had already voiced reserve on the bill’s three flagship measures, due to this infringement on conscientious objection:

  • The validity of advance euthanasia directives (“living wills”) would be extended from 5 years to an unlimited period.
  • 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.
  • Healthcare establishments would not be allowed to conclude clauses with their doctors, which would prohibit performing euthanasia on their premises.

According to the analysis published by the European Bioethics Institute, “such a provision infringes on the freedom of conscience for members of healthcare establishments, both for the freedom of association, as well as the individual freedom of conscience of healthcare workers, which is practiced collectively in this case. It also contradicts the principle of pluralism in the Belgian healthcare system (…). And by withdrawing state subsidies, this provision could eventually eliminate hospitals and nursing homes that give preference to other ways of accompanying a patient toward death.

Nonetheless such a law may be declared unconstitutional, because it violates Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a right to the freedom of conscience as well as the freedom of association for these health care workers.

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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