Wednesday 20 November 2013

A deadly conflict of interest: why euthanasia in Belgium is so out of control

It is widely acknowledged that euthanasia is out of control in Belgium: a 500% increase in cases in ten years; one third involuntary; half not reported; euthanasia for blindness, anorexia and botched sex change operations; organ transplant euthanasia; plans to extend euthanasia to children and people with dementia.

One commentator has said that Belgium has 'leaped head-first off a moral cliff'.

But why Belgium? 

One of the reasons seems to be because of the utter failure of regulation of the practice which is exacerbated by serious conflicts of interests. One of the leading euthanasia doctors actually chairs the regulatory committee that is mean to supervise him! Other members of his ‘Commission’ are pro-euthanasia activists.

Dr Tom Mortier (pictured), Leuven University College, and Dr Georges Casteur, General Medical Practitioner, Ostend, lift the lid on Belgium’s euthanasia governance fiasco. Dr Tom Mortier is also a member of the Belgian group - Euthanasie Stop. Parts of this article were previously published by the Belgian Medical Newspaper

In October 2013, the leading euthanasia doctor in Belgium, Wim Distelmans, received international media attention for the second time. Under his ‘medical’ guidance, he killed 44-year-old Nathan Verhelst, who was born as Nancy. Distelmans, who is an oncologist, said on the Belgian radio that his patient met ‘all’ the conditions of the euthanasia law. Furthermore, Distelmans said that unbearable suffering under the Belgian euthanasia law can be both physical and psychological.

In the case of Nathan Verhelst, euthanasia was done for reasons of psychological suffering. Distelmans said that it is not exceptional for mentally ill patients to be euthanized. When he was asked about the terms of the legislation, Distelmans replied laconically that a second opinion should be sought from two other doctors, and when the patient is not terminally ill, one doctor must be a psychiatrist. Furthermore, a month must pass between the written request for euthanasia and the lethal injection.

However, according to the Belgian euthanasia law, the opinions of the two other doctors are not binding; and the doctor who does the euthanasia can ignore a negative opinion and still give a patient the lethal injection. Basically, in Belgium, a person only needs to find a euthanasia doctor who is willing to kill! The euthanasia doctor only has to have two written reports in the medical record approving euthanasia of the patient and the doctor can ignore any negative reports.

It is striking to see that Distelmans, as the leading euthanasia doctor in Belgium, has been given so much freedom. Distelmans has become a Belgian media icon who continually propagates his ideology through various newspapers and magazines. His institutional background also has enabled him to be honoured as the ‘hero of the Belgian euthanasia law’. He has been the chairman of the Belgian Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission (Belgian Commission) for more than ten years.

Furthermore, he has started his own ideological association (Leif) that is giving awards to other members of the Belgian Commission. For instance, the retired Senator Jacinta De Roeck, a pro-euthanasia activist, was recently honoured by Distelmans with a ‘lifetime achievement award’, which is ironic as already more than 8000 euthanasia cases have been registered in Belgium since 2002.

As the chairman of the Belgian Commission, Distelmans is ‘controlling’ his euthanasia law, while continuing to administer lethal injections after ‘consulting’ with his close colleagues. Therefore, we strongly question whether independent consultations, a legal requirement of the law, are actually occurring during these so-called medical consultations. Is it not a conflict of interest when Distelmans declares euthanasia cases performed by himself to the Belgian Commission when he is also the chairman and when the members of the Belgian Commission include pro-euthanasia activists like Jacinta De Roeck and Jacqueline Herremans?

Furthermore, there will never be a two-thirds majority to send a case to a judge because the members of the Belgian Commission and its chairman are in a conflict of interest!

It appears that Distelmans has become both the judge and the executioner.

If the euthanasia law in Belgium has taught us anything, it is that in Belgium the euthanasia doctors have been given all of the power in contrast to the patients who are given lethal injections!

Sourced both from Tom Mortier and Alex Schadenberg’s blog

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