February 22, 2024

Belgium’s euthanasia commission under fire after shock letter by whistleblower

But commission denies that there has been any negligence

Evidence of gross negligence is mounting against Belgium’s peak euthanasia regulatory body, the Federal Commission for Euthanasia Control and Evaluation.

Dr. Ludo Van Opdenbosch, a neurologist who was a Commission member for several years, resigned in September 2017. Associated Press recently obtained the letter of resignation that Dr Van Opdenbosch sent to senior politicians, which details his dissatisfaction with the oversight processes of the Commission. “I do not want to be part of a committee that deliberately violates the law,” he wrote. 

According to the letter, the Commission failed to refer to authorities a doctor who Van Opdenbosch says euthanised a demented patient without consent. The letter outlines the basic details of the case the patient, whose identity was not disclosed, was euthanised at the family's request, and there was no record of any prior request for euthanasia from the patient.

Furthermore, Van Opdenbosch states that when he expressed concerns about other potentially problematic cases, he was immediately “silenced” by other members of the Commission. He suggests that because many of the doctors on the commission are leading euthanasia practitioners, they can protect each other from scrutiny, and act with “impunity”. 

“It's not euthanasia because the patient didn't ask, so it's the voluntary taking of a life,” said Dr An Haekens, psychiatric director at the Alexianen Psychiatric Hospital in Tienen, Belgium. “I don't know another word other than murder to describe this.” 

However, the two co-chairs of the commission, Dr Wim Distelmans and Gilles Genicot, have strongly denied that there has been any negligence. “It can obviously occur that some debate emerges among members but our role is to make sure that the law is observed and certainly not to trespass it,” they said. They also denied that Van Opdenbosch had been muzzled. 

Associated Press had already revealed details of a rift between the co-chair of the Commission, Dr. Willem Distelmans, and Lieve Thienpont, an advocate of euthanasia for the mentally ill. Distelmans suggested some of Thienpont's patients might have been killed without meeting all the legal requirements.

More than 360 doctors, academics and others have since signed a petition calling for tighter controls on euthanasia for psychiatric patients.

Belgium’s euthanasia watchdog under fire
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