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Silent Voices

Some Reflections on the Belgian Euthanasia Experiment

The University Centre Saint-Ignatius is pleased to invite you to the public opening reading by Willem Lemmens (University of Antwerp) of the international UCSIA conference 15 years euthanasia legislation in Belgium on Wednesday November 15th 2017.

In Belgium euthanasia, or the intentional ending of a human life by a doctor through lethal injection, has been legal under specific conditions since 2002. Often hailed as a hallmark of ethical progress, the implementation of euthanasia as a necessary ingredient in the practice of end-of-life care was not experienced by all parties concerned in such a positive manner. However, critical voices questioning both the euthanasia law and its practical implementation were usually put aside by a specific group of experts and the Belgian media as merely symptomatic for the concerns of a conservative minority. In this lecture, I will challenge this perception and try to give a voice to the sincere worries expressed by different stakeholders involved in the Belgian social experiment of euthanasia.

I will first give a historical analysis and hermeneutics of the concept of euthanasia. I will then illustrate how the Belgian euthanasia law - and its implementation - propagates a specific conception of moral autonomy and self-determination that makes the gradual extension of euthanasia to different groups of citizens beyond the strictly medical realm almost unavoidable. I will illustrate this contention with references to the spheres of psychiatry and the care for elderly people who are not terminally ill but merely ‘tired of living’. In the last part of my lecture, I elucidate how many legislative initiatives abroad remain reluctant to follow the example of Belgium (and the Netherlands) when it comes to euthanasia: I contend that the voices from abroad should be heard urgently to improve the quality of the public debate on euthanasia in Belgium.

Willem Lemmens is professor of modern philosophy and ethics at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. He is chair of the Department of Philosophy and of the Center Pieter Gillis at his university. He studied philosophy and cultural anthropology at the KU Leuven, where he received in 1997 his PhD in philosophy with a dissertation on the moral philosophy of David Hume. He has been post-doctoral fellow of the FWO, Flanders, Belgium and fellow at the Institute for advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. Since 2004 he is a member of the National Council for Bioethics of Belgium and in 2012 he was elected at the executive committee of the Hume Society. Since 2000 he has been teaching history of philosophy and ethics at various faculties at the University of Antwerp. His main research interests are: history of early modern philosophy (Spinoza and Hume), philosophy of religion, meta-ethics (empathy and human dignity), bio-ethics.

Applied for accreditering at Federale bemiddelingscommissie voor juristen and RIZIV (theme "Algemene geneeskunde"). More information will be posted as soon as the accredition is granted.