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15 Years of Euthanasia Law in Belgium

Critical perspectives from home and abroad

Since 2002 Belgium is one of the few countries in the world that allows by law euthanasia or the active ending of the life of a patient by a doctor on request of the first and within strict conditions. In the Belgian media and civil society the euthanasia law and practice seems to have gained wide acceptance. Remarkably, however, in other countries of the Western world, Belgium has often been criticized for its euthanasia law and the practice of medical aid in dying it inaugurated. Moreover, in recent years some critical voices were heard in Belgium also, notably with relation to euthanasia for psychiatric patients and elderly who are not terminally ill but are ‘tired of living’.

What should we think of these critical voices? This symposium aims at a better understanding of the worries and critiques expressed abroad and in Belgium after 15 years of euthanasia law and practice. A first part of the colloquium will highlight how some experts from abroad and from Belgium assess the Belgian euthanasia law and its current application: the aim is to strengthen mutual understanding and dialogue. A second part of the colloquium will focus on the worries concerning euthanasia for psychiatric patients and geriatric patients: here also, voices from abroad will meet Belgian experts.

The overall aim of the symposium is to bring together experts from different fields (legal, medical, ethical, philosophical) to elucidate the following questions:

  • Should the Belgian law and practice on euthanasia be taken as an example to follow, or not?
  • What are the main worries among legal experts, physicians, activists, citizens from abroad with regard to the Belgian euthanasia law and practice?
  • How should we understand the growing criticism and/or worries among experts abroad, but also in Belgium, on the implementation of euthanasia in psychiatry and geriatrics?
  • How could, if needed, the Belgian law and practice with regard to euthanasia be improved?

Answering these questions should help not only to overcome possible misunderstandings, but could also be a way to improve existing practices in the end-of-life care. After all, any legal regulation of euthanasia confronts us with questions and challenges that exceed national legislations or local medical cultures: it confronts us with ethical, legal and medical issues that have universal significance and importance.