Bioethics News

50 or 60 Belgian patients euthanased annually for psychiatric reasons

At least 50 patients are euthanased each year for purely psychiatric reasons, says the leading figure in Belgian euthanasia, Dr Wim Distelmans. In an interview in the Belgian magazine Humo, he says:

Manic-depressive patients, in their manic moments, are capable of doing the most improbable things: plundering their bank accounts, staying for weeks in five-star hotels, buying several cars in a single day. At that stage they are not mentally competent, obviously. But in moments of depression, exhausted … they are certainly competent. Then they can say, for example: “I have lived through crazy highs and lows for 30 years; I’ve tried everything to break that infernal cycle, including psychiatric hospitals, but now I’m back on the baseline, and I know I have a few weeks left before I’m sinking into the depths or rising to heights.”

These are people who are eligible for euthanasia.

This is a small group – 50 to 60 patients – but it is not negligible number: 2 to 3 percent of the 1,924 people who were euthanased last year. Usually they are not old, but they have suffered for a long time. They feel that they are no longer comfortable in this world: “All my relationships have failed.” They are in their 20s or 30s; they have been followed medically since they were children; they have a history of institutionalization. Their parents were originally radically against euthanasia, but eventually they agreed with it because nothing more could be done…

We insist that the euthanasia occurs in the presence of the family.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.