Bioethics News

More bracket creep in Belgian euthanasia

Three bills which could significantly expand the scope of euthanasia in Belgium have been proposed by Laurette Onkelinx, the leader of the Belgian Socialists and a former Deputy Prime Minister.

The first (PDF) would remove a five-year sunset clause for advance declaration of a patient’s willingness to accept euthanasia. This would mean that a document written 20 or 30 years before would be valid, no matter what a patient might have thought in recent times.

The second (PDF) would force doctors to give a rapid turn-around to requests for euthanasia. They would have to answer within seven days. If they refused, they would have to transfer the patient’s file to a doctor who would be willing to give a lethal injection. This threatens to remove physicians’ right to conscientious objection to euthanasia. It would also force doctors to treat a request as a matter of urgency, even though it might have come during a psychological crisis which would soon pass.

The third (PDF) would remove the right of institutions like hospitals or nursing homes to refuse to allow euthanasia on their premises. Ms Onkelinx insists that institutions have no right to conscientious objection; only doctors do. Her bill affirms a doctor’s right to follow his conscientious belief in the practice of euthanasia. In an explanatory memorandum, she invokes the principle that “a doctor can be neither forced to nor prevented from practicing euthanasia in legal conditions, wherever he might be.”

Although the proposals are radical, they have hardly been reported, even in the Belgian media. 

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence.

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.