Sunday, May 23, 2010

Euthanasia in Belgium Not Always Voluntary

Some rather baffling news about euthanasia comes from Belgium - where euthanasia has been legal since 2002 -- in two articles in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The articles themselves are not yet available, but the press releases are disturbing. From two studies based on anonymous questionnaires, the following information was gleaned:

(1) About one death in 25 in Belgium is euthanasia.

(2) 2% of all deaths occur after an explicit request to a physician. However, 1.8% -- almost the same number - occur without a request.

(3) The authors of the study do not find this alarming because the proportion of non-voluntary euthanasia is the same as before euthanasia was legalised. In other words, a lot of illegal non-voluntary euthanasia - murder -- was happening before the law was passed.

(4) Clear guidelines exist for voluntary euthanasia in Belgium. It must be carried out by a physician. However, 12% of the time it was done - illegally - by nurses.

(5) Despite the lack of explicit patient request, the use of life-ending drugs was in most cases discussed with patients' families and health professional colleagues. "The use of life-ending drugs without explicit patient request occurs predominantly in hospital and among elderly patients who are mostly in an irreversible coma or demented," write Dr. Kenneth Chambaere, Vrije Universiteit, Brussel, and his co-authors.

The worst abuse of the legalization of euthanasia in Belgium is in Flanders where many doctors are not following the required process.

The information in English is fragmentary. A news report in March said that in 2009 700 official cases of euthanasia were reported, up 40% on 2008. "Experts point out these are only official statistics [sic], and estimate that these only represent 25% of the actual numbers," said FlandersNews. ~ Eureka Alert, May 17

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