April 17, 2024

Two frameworks for Belgian euthanasia

Hi there,

Just as I was about to put BioEdge to bed, a couple of Wall Street Journal articles by Naftali Bendavid about euthanasia in Belgium popped up on Google News. They appeared just as the Belgian Parliament reached a consensus on allowing euthanasia for children who request it.

The articles present two very different images of euthanasia. The first is joyful and serene.

“It’s something they are looking forward to,” says one doctor who has euthanased more than 20 patients. “That sounds paradoxical, but it is the only way to step out in a dignified manner, having control over their life and death, and they see it as a kind of party. They are surrounded by loved ones, they sing songs sometimes. It’s very, very strange.”

The second is bureaucratic, lonely and stark. Tom Mortier, a chemistry lecturer, learned via email that his mother, who suffered from depression, had been euthanased. Then he received a bill for transport of the body to a science lab where it would be dissected. It was a sad way to die. “What the doctor does is like a god,” Mr Mortier told the WSJ. “He decides if the life is worth living or not.”

The Belgian media have enthusiastically embraced the first framework for euthanasia, with numerous features appearing about the beauty of choosing the time of one’s departure. But I wonder if the experience of Mr Mortier’s mother is really the more common one.

Over the past ten years, more than 5,500 Belgians have been euthanased. Did they all step into the dark clinking champagne glasses and singing cabaret songs? Somehow I doubt it. But that is one of the many things which remains murky about legalised euthanasia. We need more information.

If you have an interest in how legalized euthanasia works, our lead story is quite compelling. (It is the first time that the news has appeared in English.) Dutch doctors are now allowed to take into consideration the suffering of parents when deciding whether or not to give a child a lethal injection. This is an interesting development. What will happen when the same principle is applied to the elderly? Will the tears of their middle-aged children decide whether they live or die? 


Michael Cook
The Wall Street Journal on how people die in Belgium