Only half of Belgium’s euthanasia cases are reported

Only half of all euthanasia cases inBelgium are reported, according to a study in the BMJ. Euthanasia has beenlegal since 2002 and three biennial reports have been published about allreported cases of euthanasia. No cases of abuse have ever been found.


However, Belgian academics wondered whetherthere might be abuses in unreported cases. There were.

The law clearly stipulates that euthanasiais administering, supplying, or prescribing drugs with the explicit intentionof hastening the patient’s death. To be legal, several conditions have to bemet. Among these are: it has to be performed after an explicit request from apatient; the doctor himself must administer lethal drugs; another doctor has tobe consulted, and a report must be submitted.

What the authors found is that in 2007 in Flanders,the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, only 52.8% cases of euthanasia werereported to the authorities. Why is the rate so low? It appears that about 77%physicians who did not report cases of euthanasia did not perceive their act aseuthanasia, as defined by Belgium’s law. But there were other reasons as well.About 18% said that reporting involves too much paperwork; about 12% fearedthat not all of the legal requirements had been met; 9% thought that euthanasiais a private matter between physician and patient.

One of the reasons for legalisingeuthanasia in Belgium was to make it more transparent so that society couldcontrol it. However, the authors point out that “legalisation alone does notseem sufficient to reach the goal of transparency”. They recommend moreeducation in medical school and more support for doctors who have to deal withrequests for euthanasia. BMJ, Oct 5

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