Belgium 2015 euthanasia report: Deaths continue to rise

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The 2015 Belgian euthanasia data indicates that the number of euthanasia deaths continue to increase. According to the Belgian media, in 2015, there were 2021 reported deaths by euthanasia, up from 1924 reported euthanasia deaths in 2014.

But Wim Distelmans, the chairman of the euthanasia commission reminded the media that they cannot say for certain the actual number of euthanasia deaths. Distelmans stated:

"Remember, there could be some euthanasia cases carried out but which are not declared so we cannot say for certain what the number is,"

Distelmans remarks are confirmed by research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on March 19 2015 concerning the euthanasia practice in Belgium which indicated that: 

  • 4.6% of all deaths in 2013 in the Flanders region were euthanasia. 
  • .05% of all deaths in 2013 in the Flanders region were assisted suicide.
  • 1.7% of all deaths in 2013 in the Flanders region were hastened without explicit request.

First: The data uncovered significant under-reporting of euthanasia in the Flanders region of Belgium. The official 2013 euthanasia data found that 2.4% of the deaths in the Flanders region were euthanasia, while the study examining all deaths found that 4.6% of the deaths in the Flanders region were euthanasia. Therefore nearly half of the euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium were not reported.

In January 2014, Dr Marc Cosyns, was quoted by De Standard news saying that he never reports his euthanasia deaths, even though it is a requirement of the Belgian euthanasia law.

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Battle lines drawn in Belgium over euthanasia and conscience rights

This article was published by HOPE Australia on January 2, 2016.

By Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Family set to sue over ‘non-euthanasia’ in Catholic aged care home.

Over recent weeks the issue of conscientious objection, or the ‘conscience clause’ in the Belgian euthanasia law has been brought into the spotlight by the assertion by the newArchbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Jozef De Kesel, that he has the right to refuse Catholic hospitals and aged care facilities to co-operate with euthanasia.

Euthanasia advocates both in academia and in the medical profession have bristled at the suggestion that institutions might say ‘non’ with many displaying a distinct and disturbing lack of understanding about the status of the 14 year old statute that allows doctors to kill their patients.

The Belgian law clearly provides a conscientious ‘out’ for doctors and others assisting in a euthanasia but it is otherwise silent about institutions. Some suggest that the extension to institutions such as a church ae implied while others suggest, dubiously to my thinking, that the silence suggests otherwise.

While, initially at least, this seemed like very much like an academic exercise with no-one really expecting the new bishop to force a show down. But a showdown was already in the making.

Various Belgian news outlets, today, are running with a story about a refusal by a Catholic nursing home to allow a doctor onto their premises to perform euthanasia. According to reports, the 74-year-old woman was terminally ill with metastatic cancer and living in the St. Augustine residential care centre in Diest.

The process of requesting euthanasia began in 2011 and progressed for six months before St. Augustine’s management refused access supposedly only days before the euthanasia was to take place. The various stories do not say whether or not the facility was formally aware of the process, however the family of the woman say that, after initially believing that the matter was simply a misunderstanding, they arranged for the woman to be transported to a private residence where the death took place. The family are claiming that the facility caused additional psychological and physical suffering for their mother.

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Belgian euthanasia ‘dialogue’ continuse to grow

This article was published by HOPE Australia on December 15.

By Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

‘But let us into the debates play the ball instead of the man.’ Says Dr Wim Distlemans in De Morgen in reply to Professor Theo Boers’ observations in yesterday’s Belgian press about the bungled operation of the Belgian Euthanasia Review Commission under Distelmans’ leadership.

Boer, a Dutchman and former member of the Dutch euthanasia review system for nine years entered the debate by reflecting the Dutch standards against the Belgian laisse-faire operation. Boer is critical of Distelmans’ public advocacy role in promoting euthanasia and sees it as contrary to the role of co-chair of the commission charged with reviewing each and every case – including Distelmans’ own cases.

Distelmans in reply, does what he accuses others of and ‘plays the man’. He then tries desperately to deflect Boer’s criticisms by attempting to refocus the debate in other areas. For mine he fails dismally.

He seeks to smear Boer by association, claiming that Boer is being intellectually dishonest by not declaring an association with the anti-euthanasia group Euthanasie Stop, which Distelmans describes as ‘an organization made up of well-known Catholic personalities and militants who are almost professional in their anti-euthanasia battle.’

Does the saying ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ translate well into Flemish? Boer’s only 'association’ with that group, if you can call it that, is that they have republished one of his articles. Death by google search!

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Belgian prisoners denied euthanasia, for now

This article was published on the Bioedge on November 21.

By Michael Cook

Belgian serial rapist and murderer Frank Van Den Bleeken, who was serving a life sentence, sparked a controversy by asking for euthanasia in 2014. The government at first granted his request and the bureaucratic machine began whirring. However, it quickly backtracked and placed him in a specialised psychiatric unit where he could get better care.

In the wake of his highly-publicised request, 15 other prisoners have asked for euthanasia in Belgium on the grounds that they have unbearable psychological suffering. This week the head of the country’s euthanasia commission declared that they are not eligible. Dr Wim Distelmans told De Morgen that:

The unbearable suffering that these prisoners describe is due in large part to the context (ie, prison) and is not the result of an incurable disease … We have advised the interested parties that they are not within the framework and conditions provided by law.

However, this may not be the end of the story. De Morgen reported that better psychiatric treatment would be made available to some or all of the 15 prisoners at the Sint-Kamillus university psychiatric center in Bierbeek. "If the patients maintain their request for euthanasia, then we'll reconsider," Dr Distelmans said.

After the apparently unstoppable expansion of euthanasia requests, Belgium may be applying the brakes, possibly in response to adverse international publicity. Apart from denying euthanasia to the prisoners, a prominent euthanasia doctor, Dr Mark Van Der Hoey, was recently charged with breaking the law after he was filmed euthanasing a patient in an Australian documentary. It was the first time since euthanasia was legalised in Belgium that a doctor has been charged, let alone convicted.

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Tom Mortier: Surely you’re joking, Mr Denton - Belgian euthanasia is a problem free zone?

This article was published by Mercatornet on their Careful blog on November 4, 2015

By Tom Mortier

Tom Mortier

Tom Mortier

In May 2015 Paul Russell, of Hope, an Australian coalition opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide, invited me to come to Adelaide to speak about my experiences with the Belgian euthanasia law. It is now well known that my physically healthy mother was killed by a lethal injection given by the Flemish euthanasia practitioner Dr Wim Distelmans.

At the conference, Paul told me that someone called Andrew Denton wanted to interview me. I had never heard of Mr Denton, but Paul told me that he was very famous and that it would be a good opportunity to talk with him. So I did. I don’t remember much from the interview, but he did ask searching questions.

I told him that a staff writer from The New Yorker was also working on a piece about the suicide of my mother. When it was eventually published, I forwarded it to him because it gave a good insight into the Flemish euthanasia lobby.

When I spoke with Mr Denton in Adelaide, I didn’t realise that he was so well-known in Australia. He had even been featured pulling faces on the cover of Rolling Stone. I learned that he was both a comedian and a real television celebrity.

But I was very disappointed in his treatment of euthanasia and assisted suicide. He mentioned me during a radio interview but he said that the story of my late mother was sad, but did not prove that the Belgian euthanasia law wasn’t working. Australia needed an euthanasia law as soon as possible and Belgium (and the Netherlands) is the model, he declared.

Most citizens support the law and “only five percent” of all deaths there are due to lethal injections, he claims. For Denton, it is all about “free choice”. He told TV viewers that he had attended a big “anti-euthanasia” conference and that everything that the people had been telling him during that conference was a lie. Belgian euthanasia is a problem-free zone.

No problems, Mr Denton? Really? Are you speaking as a comedian or as a journalist? Perhaps you should watch a bit more Australian television.

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Belgian Euthanasia Commission refers case for judiciary review

This article was published by HOPE Australia on October 29, 2015.

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

By Paul Russell, the director of HOPE Australia.

De Standaard newspaper is reporting today that, for the very first time since its inception in October 2002, the Belgian Euthanasia Commission has referred a reported euthanasia case to the judiciary for review.

The case in question is well known as it was recorded by the Australian SBS TV Network reporter, Brett Mason, in a Dateline documentary aired in Australia in September. As Mason reported:

“Simona de Moor is a physically healthy 85-year-old. She lives in a care home in Antwerp, but is still active and on no medication. 
However, she’s been unable to accept the death of her daughter Vivian from a heart attack three months earlier, and sees no reason to go on.”

De Standaard reports:

"The doctor in question has not complied with the conditions imposed by the law, ruled the 16 members on Tuesday unanimously. Palliative physician and co-chair of the Committee Wim Distelmans confirmed the news to the newspaper. "If there is any doubt about the terms, we must continue to court." 
The doctor in question is Marc Van Hoey, also chairman of the association "Right to die with dignity." He applied to euthanasia on Simona De Moor, a 85-year-old woman who died on June 22 of this year in Antwerp."

Van Hoey is no stranger to the controversies associated with the application of Belgium's euthansia laws.

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The continual expansion of euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium

Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The Washington Post published a very well researched article by Charles Lane on August 19, 2015 titled: Europe's sinister expansion of euthanasia. This same article was republished in the National Post and several other major newspapers.

Lane examined the date from the recent research concerning the Belgian euthanasia law. I have written similar articles, but to his credit, Lane has been published by major newspapers.

Lane first examines the data from a Study: concerning 100 requests for euthanasia for psychiatric reasons in Belgium. Lane remarks that:

Between October 2007 and December 2011, 100 people went to a clinic in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region with depression, or schizophrenia, or, in several cases, Asperger’s syndrome, seeking euthanasia. The doctors, satisfied that 48 of the patients were in earnest, and that their conditions were “untreatable” and “unbearable,” offered them lethal injection; 35 went through with it. 
These facts come not from a police report but an article by one of the clinic’s psychiatrists, Lieve Thienpont, in the British journal BMJ Open. All was perfectly legal under Belgium’s 2002 euthanasia statute, which applies not only to terminal physical illness, still the vast majority of cases, but also to an apparently growing minority of psychological ones. Official figures show nine cases of euthanasia due to “neuropsychiatric” disorders in the two-year period 2004-2005; in 2012-2013, the number had risen to 120, or 4 percent of the total.

Lane then examines the data from a study concerning the: First Year of the End-of-Life Clinic for Physician-Assisted Dying in the Netherlands.

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