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Belgium keeps tight reins on euthanasia legislation

Belgium partially legalised euthanasia in 2002. The “act of ending the life of a person on the request of that person” is controlled by a commission that reviews patients and doctors declarations.

During 2004 and 2005, according to the commission, 742 cases of legal euthanasia were reported – 31 per month, reveals Belgian newspaper Le Soir. A significant increase from 2002-2003 when only 17 euthanasia a month took place. Still, euthanasia only concerns between 3 and 4 deaths in a 1000.

The commission explains this increase as the result of progressive diffusion of information on euthanasia rather then a change in attitude.

In the end, there was no ‘wave of euthanasia’ as some had feared and Belgium did not become a morbid tourist destination for ‘special’ visitors as others had feared.

Belgian law had taken this possibility into consideration and includes a clause necessitating a long-term relationship between the doctor practicing euthanasia and the patient putting and end to his or her suffering.

Consequently potential candidates need to reside in Belgium to be granted this right.

The main age-groups who have euthanasia are people in their 40’s and people over 80. But people over 80 constitute a mere 17 percent of all euthanasia cases in Belgium while they represent more than a half of non-assisted death. As Le Soir puts it; Belgian “doctors did not become old-people murderers.”

Most euthanasia cases, 83 percent, involved patients suffering from terminal or generalised cancers. In these cases the patients were, for the most, unlikely to live for more then a few months.

Some statistics are surprising: 39 percent of cases, euthanasia was carried out at the patient’s home. Also, only 14 percent of all declarations were written in French; perhaps showing another of difference between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgians.

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