Belgium Is World´s Second Country To Approve Euthanasia

Bishops Fear Patients Will Suffer Moral Blackmail

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BRUSSELS, MAY 17, 2002 (´s Bishops express their opposition to the law approved by Parliament yesterday, a law partially decriminalizing euthanasia.

The Bishops fear that «patients will suffer pressures from members of their family, or the staff caring for them, to undergo euthanasia.»

The Belgian Parliament approved the legalization of euthanasia on Thursday by a measure of 86 votes to 51; 10 abstained from voting. Consequently, the Chamber of Deputies accepted the text approved by the Senate 7 months ago, becoming the law.

«In this law, the dignity of the human being is at stake, as it is not linked to his existence but to what is called his ´quality of life,´» the Bishops´ press statement explained.

«Therefore, this means that the Belgian State is in agreement with the fact that this human life has less value than others,» the statement adds.

The Bishops also wonder if «the doctor will be able to oppose this and say no to people who ask for euthanasia,» and «if hospitals refusing to practice euthanasia in their premises will be left in peace.»

Following Holland, where euthanasia has been permissible since early April, Belgium now becomes the second country in the world to decriminalize «gentle death.»

The Belgian regulation is less permissive than the Dutch and is coupled with a law that encourages the application of palliative treatments, for the relief of a terminal patient´s suffering and to allow him to have a dignified and serene end.

Consisting of 16 articles, the Belgian law enables a doctor to end a patient´s life without being prosecuted by law, with the proviso that a series of conditions are met.

The patient must be older than 18, and capable of understanding and perception at the moment of his request, which must be in written form. The request may be written and authenticated prior to a patient´s incapacity, in view of this condition.

The request for euthanasia must be «voluntary, reflected upon, and reiterated,» and must not be the result of external pressures.

The doctor receiving the request must verify that the patient is in a «hopeless clinical situation and endures physical or psychic suffering that is constant and unbearable, which cannot be soothed, and is caused by the detrimental effect of an accident or is a serious and incurable pathological» case.

In addition, the doctor must inform the patient about his state, consult him, and together come to the conviction that euthanasia is the only acceptable solution.

The law explicitly states that the doctor «cannot be obliged» to practice euthanasia. This article was introduced to avoid doctors being pressured by patients or their relatives, as has happened in Holland.

Moreover, the law states that another doctor must be consulted, independent and knowledgeable in the patient´s illness, as well as the entire health team that cares for the patient.

There must be a month of reflection between the moment of the request for euthanasia and its execution, resulting in the end of the patient´s life.

Within 4 days of the patient´s death, the doctor must hand in a document to a Federal Commission of Control and Evaluation, made up of doctors, jurists, and experts in ethical questions, in which all the data must be provided that will allow for the verification of all conditions prescribed by the law.

If two thirds of the Commission´s members do not agree, the case must be presented to the Magistrate to be examined by a criminal court.

The law, the result of a parliamentary itinerary that has lasted 2 years, was approved despite the opposition of the French-speaking (PSC) and Flemish-speaking (CDV) Christian Social parties. Joelle Milquet, the president of PSC, said that an appeal would be presented to the European Court of Human Rights to request «profound modifications» to the new law.

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