Tuesday, 21 May 2019


Practitioners Sounding Alarm 

Developments in Europe

Christian Info

The law decriminalizing euthanasia in Belgium was passed in May 2002. This law was intended to create a framework allowing a patient to make a request for euthanasia and a doctor to access it under certain conditions, without the doctor is in a position to commit a criminal offense.

Since Belgium has taken this step, the debate on the legalization of euthanasia has been taking place in France and elsewhere in Europe. It has even become a campaign theme in Spain . Yet, with 17 years of hindsight on Belgian practices, many practitioners are sounding the alarm.

The Belgian collective  Euthanasie Stop , made up of 43 people including 35 doctors and medical professors, a lawyer, an honorary magistrate, a palliative care ethicist, a rabbi, an imam and a canon, decided to inform and question. 
"This website presents itself as a space of public expression, open to all those who wish to make a discordant voice heard. "
Among them, the doctor oncologist at the University Hospital Leuven is at the forefront of this bioethical debate. In his book Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Lessons from Belgium , an international panel of experts examines the implications of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide. These experts thoroughly analyze Belgian data and question "one of the most difficult ethical issues of our time, using law, philosophy and medical disciplines".

In France, the debate is decided between the doctors. If in 2013, an IPSOS survey revealed that 60% of the surveyed physicians were generally in favor of "active" euthanasia (which involves the act of a third party who gives a dying person a lethal substance or provides it), many are not in favor.

Jean Leonetti, author of the 2005 law on patients' rights and end of life, and co-author of the 2016 law, spoke very clearly about his fears regarding the legalization of euthanasia in France. , for  Le Parisien
"I continue to defend the idea that giving death to a person, even at his request, constitutes a frank rupture of fraternity and solidarity. It is not because people ask for it that we must meet their expectations. "
In 2018, the Unit and Palliative Care Team doctors in the Northern Department testified to the "intentionality of their mission", which "is never to shorten life but to relieve symptoms." He then spoke in these terms on Le Figaro Santé .
"As a last resort, if we have not managed to relieve the patient by the usual means, we can set up a sedation so that he is no longer aware of the situation that causes him discomfort ... This is exceptional. The intentionality of our care is never to shorten life but to relieve symptoms. It is not the therapies initiated or stopped, but the evolution of the underlying disease that causes the death; this one being inescapable in more or less short term. Since its intention is to lead, directly and intentionally, the death of a patient, euthanasia goes against our palliative culture, our practices. "
"Euthanasia goes against our palliative culture, our practices" A message that could not be more clearly signed by all the practitioners of this unit. The doctors testify that in view of their daily experience in a palliative care unit, the support that they give to the patient but also to their families "allows a work of mourning, exchanges, moments of joy and sharing, which would not have been possible otherwise ".
"Palliative care respects life and sees death as a natural process. The singularity of the experience of patients in this situation and their wishes are deeply respected. "
According to them, the end-of-life debate should focus on "the patients' right to unreasonable non-obstinacy, to the relief of symptoms of discomfort and to access to palliative care".

In Belgium, the debates are already positioning themselves well beyond these considerations. As the law was passed many years ago, several cases of abuse emerged in the media.  At the end of 2018, for the first time the indictment chamber of the Ghent Court of Appeal decided to send to the Assize Court three doctors accused of failing to comply with the legal requirements of euthanasia.

In this case the complaint was filed by the sister of the patient, euthanized when she had expressed little desire to die, and had not been on treatment for years for his psychic sufferings. The diagnosis of autism was only made for two months. The doctors will be judged for "poisoning".

According to the psychiatrist, she did not meet the requirements of the Belgian law on euthanasia Another case will soon be examined by the European Court of Human Rights. Tom Mortier has indeed decided to make known the history of his depressed mother for 20 years. Hospitalized in 2012 as part of her depression, the doctors gave a lethal injection because she was suffering from an "incurable depression". The phone call informing Tom of the news had been devastating. According to the psychiatrist treating Tom's mother for more than 20 years, she was in good physical health and did not meet the requirements of the Belgian law on euthanasia.

In July 2018, it was the stories of 3 children living under the protection of their parents and suffering from cancer, euthanized in the hospital, who had deeply shocked opinion. Lord Carlile, co-chair of Living and Dying Well , a parliamentary group opposed to euthanasia, said he was "deeply shocked" by both the deaths of children and the growing number of euthanasia cases.
"The euthanasia of these children is clearly at odds with the European Convention on Human Rights. "
He then declared that the Belgian government was "much too relaxed" about euthanasia, and that it "did not guarantee proper controls and the maintenance of standards".

In some Belgian palliative care units , nurses and social workers specializing in the treatment of people at the end of life have left these units "disappointed at not being able to offer palliative care to their patients". Professor Beuselinck believes that palliative care units are becoming "houses of euthanasia, which is the opposite of what they were supposed to be".

In France, the law still protects patients from abuse. We remember the emblematic case of Dr. Bonnemaison , permanently removed from the order of doctors in 2015 and sentenced to two years in prison suspended, for practicing a lethal injection on a patient. However, he was not convicted of several other suspected cases for lack of evidence.

In Belgium, new legislative proposals that would now extend the law to minors and "insane persons" are under consideration in Parliament. A forum proposed by the Grain de Sel group of the College of Physicians of the French Society of Accompaniment and Palliative Care, questioned at the end of 2018 in a tribune of Figaro, "a law that does not protect the weakest can it be right? ".

"We professionals are witnessing the beautiful things that can be experienced in the last moments, even if they are difficult. "

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