Bioethics News

Call for Belgium to revise euthanasia legislation

Although legalised euthanasia is widely accepted amongst Belgian doctors and politicians and a pet cause of the media, many medicos still have misgivings. This week a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers and others published a letter in De Morgen, a Flemish newspaper, asking the government to remove the option for euthanasia on the basis of psychological suffering alone. 

This is probably the first time that a professional group has pushed back against the ever-widening circle of eligibility for euthanasia. The trigger for the letter was two vivid documentaries in the English-speaking media. The first, which appeared on the Australian SBS network, showed a doctor euthanizing an elderly woman without seeking a consultation with a psychiatrist, as he is supposed to do under current legislation. For the first time in the history of the legislation, the euthanasia commission decided to press charges. The second documentary was a video produced by The Economist about a 24-year-old woman suffering from severe depression who applied for euthanasia.

Here are some excerpts from the dissidents’ letter (translation here):

Mental suffering is real and can be at least as severe as physical suffering.

What is unique, however, is that you can only rely on the word of the person who is suffering to evaluate it. And this is clearly a good thing, because he or she is the only one who knows how much it hurts at that precise moment. At that moment indeed … because when we suffer psychologically, we are often convinced that no other future is possible.

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.