Voluntary Euthanasia in Belgium
In contrast to the Netherlands, where the courts, the medical profession, and the public had gradually come to accept the practice of assisted death, legalization of assisted dying in Belgium in 2002 was preceded by much acrimonious debate. Many Belgian doctors to this day hold strong reservations about euthanasia. While the Belgian law owes much to Dutch practice, there are also important differences. The Belgian law covers both somatic and psychiatric diseases, and allows persons to draw up an advance directive which will authorize a physician to carry out the act of euthanasia if the patient in the future suffers from an incurable disorder and becomes unconscious. Unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated and that allows a physician to terminate life must be due to illness or accident and rules out existential suffering. A Federal Control Commission seeks to ensure that the rules regulating the practice of assisted death are observed. This chapter examines empirical studies of the Belgian regime. Assisted death takes place in Belgium far less frequently than in the Netherlands. The great majority of requests come from the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, probably due to different attitudes toward death in the French-speaking section. Catholic hospitals, in contrast to rulings by both the Belgian bishops and the Vatican, have accepted the principle of euthanasia, though they insist that all existing possibilities of palliative care must be exhausted. The high level of specialized palliative care available in Belgium makes this requirement of a “palliative filter” a realistic option.
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