May 14, 2024

Belgian health care boss says euthanasia is the solution to an ageing population

The president of Belgium’s biggest health care fund, Christian Mutualities (CM), has called for a radical solution to the problem of an ageing population. Luc Van Gorp told Belgian media this week that people who are tired of life should be allowed to end it.

Like all other European countries and, indeed, the rest of the world apart from sub-Saharan Africa, Belgium faces a huge increase in its elderly. Over-80s will double by 2050, from around 640,000 today to 1.2 million. Financial pressure on healthcare, medication and nursing homes will increase.

More money is not the solution, says Van Gorp. “No matter how much you end up investing, it will still not be enough. There are simply not enough health workers to do the job,” he said. “Do we really need all those extra residential care centres? Just building up rooms without doing anything about the staff shortage is not a sustainable model. I miss the why- question in elderly care. Why do we do business the way we do them now? There is often no answer to this.”

He is in favour of “a radically different approach” – not asking “how long can I live?”, but “how long can I live a quality life?”. He proposes euthanasia for people who believe that their lives are complete. “Suicide is too negative a term,” says Van Gorp. “I would rather call it: giving life back. I know it is sensitive, but we really have to dare to have that debate.”

In an interview with Nieuwsblad, Van Gorp declared: 

“Everyone wants their parents and grandparents to stay as long as possible, right? But do those people want that themselves? And what do they need for that? These questions are asked too little. Some people over 80 will not need anything at all to age well. They will even be able to support others, for example by keeping them company. Others need a lot of care, and – just to be clear – we must continue to provide it.

“But what about the category of elderly people who receive maximum care, but who still do not have the quality of life they desire? That question is asked far too little.”

A number of politicians supported Van Gorp’s call to make “a completed life” a justification for euthanasia. However, Christian democrat leader Sammy Mahdi criticised the comments. “This makes me angry,” he wrote on X. “If someone is tired of life and feels they are in the way or don’t get visitors anymore, aren’t we just failing as a society?”

Van Gorp doubled down on the sentiments expressed in his interview with Nieuwsblad. In an op-ed for the Belgian newspaper De Morgen, he wrote: “The demand for care will only increase in the coming years. If we just keep doing the way we are doing today, we’re going for an outright care crash. We can only prevent this if we choose a radically different approach, from a healthy society that puts quality of life first instead of quantity.”

There simply are not enough carers or space for the elderly to live, he says: “Numerous healthcare providers have long indicated that it is not possible to continue in this way. There are simply not enough professional hands left to provide all the care. And as a society, we create too little space to take care of those who are most dear to us ourselves.”

Van Gorp calls for an urgent national debate about the issue: “As delicate as it is, we must dare to enter into the debate about quality of life, including at the end of life. Better today than tomorrow.”