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15 Years of Euthanasia Law in Belgium

This conference took place 15–17 November 2017 in collaboration with Prof. Jan De Lepeleire (KU Leuven) and Prof. Willem Lemmens, who gave a public lecture on 15 November.

Belgium is one of the few countries in the world where, since the 2002 euthanasia law, a physician can under strict conditions actively terminate the life of a patient upon his repeated request. Media and the general public in Belgium seem to accept this legislation and practice. The number of registered cases of euthanasia is growing rapidly: in 2015, 2022 cases were registered, equaling 1.8% of the overall number of deaths.

A number of researchers from home and abroad state that it is difficult to critically evaluate the application of the legislation, partly due to a lack of transparency in the monitoring and evaluation committee that supervises it. It is difficult to form an objective picture of the number of cases in which euthanasia may have been applied in violation of the legal conditions. Was there ‘unbearable physical or psychological suffering’ as a result of an ‘incurable disorder’ with a ‘medically hopeless condition that cannot be tolerated’? Were procedural rules such as notification, consultation or waiting time correctly applied? These concerns exist primarily for euthanasia in psychiatric patients and elderly people who are ill at times but not terminally ill. Some researchers report a new medical paternalism with which euthanasia is prescribed.

The international scientific conference offered an opportunity for national and international experts – lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers and ethicists – to exchange ideas with each other and with interested professionals coming from different perspectives and national contexts. They also considered the distinction between euthanasia and medically assisted suicide and examined the interaction with palliative care. The Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde (Journal of Medicine) will publish a more detailed report.

CONTRIBUTORS: Ariane Bazan (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Patrick Cras (Antwerp University Hospital), Raphael Cohen-Almagor (University of Hull), Jan De Lepeleire (KU Leuven), Marc Desmet sj (Jessa Hospital Hasselt), Scott Kim (National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, USA), Trudo Lemmens (University of Toronto), Willem Lemmens (University of Antwerp), Sigrid Sterckx (Ghent University), Joris Vandenberghe (KU Leuven), Nele Van Den Noortgate (Ghent University), Kevin Yuill (University of Sunderland).