End of life > Euthanasia and assisted suicide
On 28 May 2002, Belgium became the second country to decriminalise euthanasia, i.e. the act of "intentionally ending a person's life at the latter's request" because of his state of health.
After twenty years of applying the Belgian law on euthanasia, and given the current critical debates on the subject, it is essential to take stock of the practice of euthanasia in Belgium and draw some perspectives on its recent and future developments.
On 28 February 2014 a law was enacted "amending the Act of 28 May 2002 on euthanasia in order to extend it to minors"1. Belgium thus became the first and only country to authorise euthanasia of minors without specifying that any conditions with respect to their age should be met.
Some people welcomed it, underlining the "pioneering" role Belgium played in establishing a legal framework for euthanasia, which was presented as the ultimate "humanitarian act" of which any patient, major or minor, should be able to take advantage. In contrast, others in Parliament and in civil society opposed the extension of the law. Among these were nearly two hundred paediatricians and paediatric palliative care specialists.
Clearly, the ethical, legal and medical questions that euthanasia raises are no less acute when it comes to approving a request from a minor. This article provides an overview and, after sketching the outline of the new legislation, makes several critical points.
Until now, only three countries in the world have decriminalised euthanasia: the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. This practice is available only to people who are mentally competent when they apply (if necessary, via a declaration in advance requesting euthanasia).
A notable exception to the voluntary nature of the request for euthanasia concerns newborns who face suffering that is deemed intolerable and who have no prospect of enjoying an acceptable "quality of life" at any point in the future. In a text written in 2004, entitled the Groningen Protocol, Professor Eduard Verhagen, Head of the Department of Paediatrics at the Medical Center of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, provides criteria to enable doctors to deliberately end the life of severely ill newborns.
First we outline the content of the Groningen Protocol, specify its legal status in the Netherlands and present several statistics. Then we review the main criticisms of the Protocol. Finally, the issue...
May 28, 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the legalisation of euthanasia in Belgium, with the Netherlands following suit a year earlier and Luxembourg doing the same in 2009 6.
To date, these three Benelux countries are the only ones to have legalised the act of intentionally killing a person who makes such a request. At a time when legalisation of euthanasia is being debated in several European countries, notably in France, it would appear appropriate to take stock of the last 10 years of implementation of the law on euthanasia in Belgium.