Official complaint lodged against leading Belgian euthanasia doctor


Dr Wim Distelmans   

After 11 years of participation in euthanasia, an official complaint has finally been lodged with the Belgian Medical Association against the leading practitioner in Belgium, Dr Wim Distelmans. In a three-page letter Tom Mortier and Dr Georges Casteur allege that Distelmans did not have the expertise to evaluate whether Mortier’s mother, Godelieve De Troyer, was ready for voluntary euthanasia.

They point out that Distelmans is not a psychiatrist or even the woman’s family doctor, but a cancer specialist. However, De Troyer was physically healthy and not suffering from physical pain. Before contacting Dr Distelmans she spoke with psychiatrists who thought that she could recover from her evident emotional distress. She was also taking medication which can cause suicidal ideation, but Dr Distelmans did not seem to take that into account.  

Feature stories in the media describe tender deathbed euthanasia scenes of patients surrounded by grieving but serene relatives. But Mortier says that De Troyer did not want her family to be notified because she was suffering from clinical depression. He feels devastated because he was unable to bid her farewell when she died in 2012.

However, Distelmans’s supporters point out that the law is crystal clear about informing relatives of a euthanasia request. The doctors are supposed to inquire, but if the patient refuses, it would be a violation of doctor-patient confidentiality to contact the relatives.

Mortier and Casteur have also questioned how euthanasia is currently regulated in Belgium. De Troyer made a donation of 2,500 Euros to Distelmans’s right-to-die association, LEIF, two months before she died. Distelmans administers euthanasia to many patients, but he is also the head of the commission which investigates failure to observe the euthanasia law. They suggest that this is a clear conflict of interest and that the composition of the commission should change.

Distelmans was reluctant to comment on the complaint to the media, but he did point out that it was the first complaint which had ever been made against him in 11 years of doing euthanasia. 

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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