Euthanasia / Assisted Suicide - Archive

Outrage Mounts over Belgium’s Euthanasia Law and its Toll on the Country

Since 2002, when Belgium legalized euthanasia, a mentality of absolute individual autonomy has profoundly altered the medical community’s treatment of patients and has isolated vulnerable individuals so much that they no longer feel connected to others.

Drs. Tom Mortier and Steven Bieseman, both lecturers at the Leuven University College in Belgium, have severely criticized the country’s euthanasia law for having fundamentally changed Belgian society for the worse.

“Euthanasia is hardening from a medical option into an ideology,” they wrote. “Questioning it has become taboo because the absolute right of the individual might be violated.” Anyone who opposes doctor-induced death is “marginalized as rigid and heartless.”

Doctors and volunteers undergo “indoctrination in self-determination” and “wear their euthanasia enabler certificates as badges of honor,” they explained. [Mortier & Bieseman, “How legal euthanasia changed Belgium forever,” Mercator.net, 5/17/13]

Dr. Mortier’s position on euthanasia is certainly understandable. On April 20, 2012, he was informed by the Free University of Brussels Hospital that his 64-year-old mother, former teacher Lieve De Troyer, had been euthanized the day before. She did not have a terminal illness or any incurable disease. But she was clinically depressed. An oncologist at the hospital had given her a lethal injection on the recommendation of just one psychiatrist. Other psychiatrists she had seen had refused her euthanasia request because they felt her depression was treatable, and her prognosis was good. Her unexpected and unnecessary death left her children and grandchildren devastated. [Newswire Canada, 9/12/13]

Drs. Mortier and Bieseman are not the only Belgians voicing their opposition to the euthanasia law for what it has done to their country. A new website, entitled “Euthanasia Stop,” was created this year and is described as “a citizen’s initiative, driven mainly by university professors, lawyers and health professionals, from all over the country and various philosophical backgrounds.”

As of October 22, 2013, 43 professionals have risked their reputations by posting their names on the website. (See http://www.euthanasiestop.be/why-euthanasia-stop.es .)

A nurse, identified only as “A nurse working in Brussels,” authored an article on the effect of euthanasia practice on nurses that is available on the website. “[N]urses do not always have something to say, or do not always dare to speak and express their thoughts,” the nurse wrote.

“They are afraid to contradict the doctor… they are afraid to go against the opinion of everyone, to lose their job or to even be penalized by bad work schedules or moral harassment from their colleagues.” At one point, the nurse directly addressed doctors:

Do you know, dear doctors, how much your patients are suffering, when you only spend ten minutes a day at their bedside?…

You tell us [nurses] that there is nothing more to do, that no more medical treatment can be found for this patient and that, after a long terminal illness, you decide “to offer an easy death to him,” with no pain, often not asking for his own opinion, sometimes even without consulting the rest of the family, and generally without even consulting [the] nurses who are concerned by this patient’s illness and who have meanwhile often [gotten] closer to him. [“Should nurses in Belgium dare to speak out?,” www.euthanasiestop.be]

One of the doctors whose name is posted on the website is Dr. Georges Casteur, the former medical director of a neurological rehabilitation center in Ostend, Belgium. He recently told a gathering in Quebec City, Canada, that the “strict” safeguards in Belgium’s euthanasia law are not working.

He said that studies have shown that one-third of the patients who were euthanized by doctors were not capable of giving informed consent to being killed and almost 50% of all the euthanasia deaths are not even reported to authorities. He further explained that pressure exerted by family members, heirs, health care providers and administrators lacking available hospital beds, can make it impossible for patients to make “free and unbiased decisions” to be euthanized. [Canada NewsWire, 10/10/13]

Recent cases go beyond “limits” of the law
Belgium’s euthanasia law states that citizens can have their lives ended if two doctors determine that they are suffering constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain resulting from an accident or incurable illness.

The identifying details and circumstances of most individual euthanasia and assisted-suicide cases, however, never become public knowledge, with the resulting dead patient simply ending up as a sterile statistic in an official annual report. But the particulars of recent tragic cases actually made headlines and caused outrage around the world—but not in Belgium.

Nathan Verhelst, 44, was euthanized on September 30, 2013 at a hospital in Brussels. A doctor there had declared him qualified to be killed under Belgium’s euthanasia law after sex-change operations failed to produce the male body Nathan expected. When he saw his body in the mirror, he was “disgusted.” “I do not want to be… a monster,” he told the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws the night before he was given the lethal injection. According to the euthanasia doctor, Nathan was experiencing “unbearable psychological suffering.” His death was filmed and broadcasted by a local TV station.

Nathan was born a girl, named Nancy, and grew up with parents that treated their only female child with utter contempt. “I was the girl that nobody wanted,” he told the newspaper. “While my brothers were celebrated, I got a storage room above the garage as a bedroom. ‘If only you had been a boy,’ my mother complained. I was tolerated, nothing more.” After his death, Nathan’s mother confirmed his assessment of his early family life as a girl. “When I first saw Nancy, my dream was shattered. She was so ugly.” “For me, this chapter is closed,” the mother said. “Her death does not bother me. I feel no sorrow, no doubt or remorse. We never had a bond which could therefore not be broken.” [Het Laatste Nieuws, 9/29/13, Daily Telegraph, 10/1/13, 10/2/13; Agence France-Presse, 10/1/13; Daily Mail, 10/2/13; BioEdge, 10/5/13]

Daily Telegraph columnist Dr. Tim Stanley summed up what was so tragic about Nathan’s medicalized killing. “Nathan Verhelst was clearly a lonely man in desperate need of human sympathy and kindness” he wrote. “Yet that kindness came not in the form of love but a lethal injection. Is this the West’s idea of humane behavior?” [Daily Telegraph, 10/7/13]

Not surprisingly, it was Dr. Wim Distelmans, Belgium’s leading euthanasia advocate, who declared Nathan qualified for death under law and who gave him the injection—the same doctor who euthanized the deaf, but generally healthy, 45-year-old twins, Marc and Eddy Verbessem, last December. (See Update, 2013-1) They were depressed over the likelihood that they would go blind as a result of a genetic condition. For two years, they searched for a doctor willing to euthanize them with no success. Then they found Dr. Distelmans, who has received numerous awards and was declared a “hero of autonomy” for his “pioneering” euthanasia work in April 2012. [T. Mortier, Mercator.net, 10/4/13]

Another extremely tragic death that occurred late last year involved a woman who suffered with anorexia nervosa for 25 years. Referred to only as Ann G., the woman went to see a psychiatrist who was an expert on anorexia for help with her condition. Instead of the help she so desperately needed, the psychiatrist, Dr. Walter Vandereycken, sexually abused her—as he reportedly had done to other patients for years. Ann G. accused him of abusing her on national TV, but, instead of being quickly prosecuted, he was allowed to return to private practice. Ann G. was left distraught because she not only had to live with her anorexia but the memory of the sexual abuse as well. A new psychiatrist gladly granted her wish to be euthanized. [BioEdge, 2/8/13; Mercator.net, 10/4/13]

The number of euthanasia victims will continue to escalate, especially since Belgium’s Parliament plans to pass a law, at the urging of some doctors, to extend the right to be killed to children and those with Alzheimer’s and other “diseases of the brain.” [London Times, 10/6/13; Independent, 10/6/13]

According to Dr. Tom Mortier, “The Belgian medical profession has become judge, jury and executioner.…” “The only argument for euthanasia which makes any sense at all in a humane society in the developed world is respect for autonomy,” he added. “But after having been tested in Belgium’s living laboratory, this starry-eyed notion stands condemned as a hollow fraud.” [Mercator.net, 10/4/13]
[2013, Patients Rights Council Update 068, Volume 27, Number 4 (2013-4), http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/update-068-volume-27-number-4-2013-4/ ]