May 28, 2024

Lost in translation

Hi there,

I just finished reading the obituary of an American scholar of Persian studies – who had nothing whatsoever to do with bioethics, as far as I know. What caught my eye was the fact that he spoke fluent Russian, German, Arabic, Persian, Pashto, French, Uzbek, and Turkish, as well as being able to cipher out ancient languages like Avestan, Pahlavi and Sogdian. Pretty good for a boy from Birmingham, Alabama.

Being a polyglot would be a big help in reporting on bioethics. Unfortunately, the only languages your editor is fluent in are English, American, Kiwi and Australian. Developments in countries where English is not the lingua franca are underreported. Google Translate is a treacherous guide — traduttore, traditore, as they say in Italian. So, for the most part, we are stuck with reporting what happens in English-speaking countries, even if significant developments occur elsewhere.

Perhaps that is why this week’s lead story has flown under the radar, even though it did appear in the English-language Journal of Critical Care. It seems, as far as I understand it, that intensive care doctors in Belgium have decided (decreed may be a better word) that it is acceptable medical practice to euthanase their patients, even if they are not suffering, even if they are not elderly, even if their relatives have not requested it, even if they have not requested it and even if it is not legal.

The lead author, Dr Jean-Louis Vincent, of the Free University of Brussels, attempted to justify this policy in a leading Belgian newspaper, Le Soir, in February but the news must have ground to a halt at the language barrier.

I do hope that critical care physicians in other countries protest this development. Surely it cannot be good for their specialty. How many Belgians will trust their mother’s doctor when she is seriously ill if he has the power to decide whether she lives or dies? 

An administrative note: BioEdge will not be published next week because of the Easter holiday.


Michael Cook
The latest development in Belgian intensive care wards is rather startling.