Belgian Senate´s Approval of Euthanasia Is Assailed

«A Regression for Civilization,» Say Catholic Bishops

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ROME, OCT. 26, 2001 ( The Belgian Senate´s approval of legislative on euthanasia was slammed as «a regression for civilization» by the nation´s Catholic bishops.

On Thursday the Senate voted 44-23 for a draft law that specifies the rules, procedures and conditions that must be observed by doctors to practice euthanasia legally.

Liberals, Socialists and Greens generally supported the measure, while Social Christians opposed it. The law still faces a vote in the Chamber of Deputies.

Under the approved bill, a doctor would have to ensure that the patient is an adult and in full use of his mental faculties. In the Netherlands, a person as young as 16 can request euthanasia.

The petition for euthanasia, which must be in writing, must also be «voluntary, reflected and reiterated» and not the result of external pressures, the bill says. A doctor must also verify that the illness is incurable and that it causes «constant, unbearable physical and mental suffering.»

The law calls for a second independent medical opinion to judge the seriousness of the pathology. In case the natural course of the illness does not cause death in the short term, a third medical opinion must be sought.

Each case of euthanasia would have to be reported to a 16-member federal commission, composed of law professors, lawyers and experts. The commission would be responsible for verifying that all conditions specified by the law have been observed. Should this not be the case, the documents would be sent to the judicial authority.

Belgium was caught up in an intense debate over the issue of euthanasia.

On the political front, it was a «rainbow» coalition of Liberals, Socialists and Greens who supported this change. The coalition has been in power since June 1999, following 40 years of uninterrupted Social Christian control of the executive branch.

The Senate voted rejected almost 150 amendments put forward, particularly by Christian Democratic Senator Clothilde Nyssen.

«This text goes too far,» Nyssen said. «Many doctors don´t like it because they are given too much discretionary power.»

Despite the fact that five Senators of the majority ignored their party´s position — three voting against and two abstaining — the law surmounted the first obstacle.

In a statement last July, the Belgian Catholic bishops´ conference explained that the legislation «contradicts the very heart of a society respectful of human life and concerned about the most vulnerable people.»

The text explains that the Catholic Church in Belgium does not intend to abandon patients, suffering acutely, to their fate. The bishops support the June 1999 recommendation of the European Council that a range of palliative treatments must be accessible to all.

At the same time, the bishops appeal to Belgian citizens to demonstrate genuine solidarity with the sick, which does not end with medical care, but also implies affective and effective solidarity with each patient.

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