Belgian MP calls for a review of the euthanasia law

This article was published by HOPE Australia on December 14, 2015.

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

By Paul Russell

The open letter from medical professionals critical of the application of the Belgian law on euthanasia to people suffering psychologically has re-ignited debate on the safety and practice of the 2002 law.

Following the letter, Christian Democrat MP, Els Van Hoof, raises significant further questions in the Belgian journal Knack. Van Hoof is severely critical of the development of the Belgian law and the amendment to include children in 2013 when, at no time over the more than a dozen years of operation has the law been formally reviewed.

‘Since 2013 I follow as an MEP intensive debates on euthanasia. The stakes of these debates was always the expansion of the existing Euthanasia Act of 2002, which allows euthanasia for adults. I then repeatedly asked the commission why should we decide to expand if there had not even done an assessment was made of the existing law on euthanasia. For it was clear that the law showed serious gaps, particularly with regard to the "safety valves" that are built to prevent abuses.’

van Hoof says that her repeated requests in the parliament for a review were blocked by an opposing majority on every occasion. She acknowledges that she is not arguing for the repeal of the law, but to improve it. Refusing a timely opportunity for review at the moment of a grave debate on child euthanasia would seem negligent.

Van Hoof is critical of the breadth of interpretation of the terms of the original law: “… the terms "medically hopeless situation" and "unbearable psychological suffering which cannot be alleviated" must be interpreted by the physician. In practice, this leads to an extremely subjective interpretation by the clinician, thus reducing the risk exists that it is too early proceeded to euthanasia.”

Van Hoof goes further than the academics in their open letter by also criticising the so-called safeguards in the Belgian law. In respect to euthanasia for psychological suffering, three doctors must be consulted. The problem Van Hoof notes is that opinions to the contrary need not be observed; the reality is that only one positive opinion is necessary – that of the doctor with the needle.

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