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Belgium proposes 'death on demand' law

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A law which would allow ‘death on demand’ is to be put before legislators in Belgium. 

Already the country with the world’s most permissive euthanasia policy, it is now to consider the introduction of a law which would stop doctors from denying euthanasia requests from patients. 

The law was proposed by the country’s opposition socialist party and is expected to receive support from the majority of parliamentarians. 

If passed, requests for assisted suicide would also have to be considered as urgent, so doctors would not be allowed to ask patients to wait in case they changed their minds.

Such proposals have raised serious concerns about the eventual shift to euthanasia ‘on demand’ and the implications this would have on vulnerable patients. 
 

Doctors would be forced to comply

Since Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, there has been a seven fold increase in deaths by euthanasia between 2003 and 2013. Euthanasia and assisted suicide now account for 6.3% of all deaths in Belgium.

Patients in Belgium can already request to end their lives for non-terminal conditions, with an increasing number of requests for conditions such as depression and loneliness. On one occasion a woman was even granted permission to die after a romantic split.

Under the proposed new law, the policy would be even more liberal. If implemented, a doctor would have to grant a patient’s request for assisted suicide within seven days, or pass the patient to another doctor who would approve it instead. 

Commenting on these proposed measures, British MP Lord Carlile of Berriew said:

“The covert and major decrease in the protection of sick and vulnerable people in Belgium is of great concern. Euthanasia merely on demand looms, without stringent ethical tests or protection against undue influence.

“It is astonishing that Belgian politicians, doctors, ethicists and scientists remain so silent in the face of these changes in Belgian law.”
 

Assisted suicide and UK law

A proposal to legalise assisted suicide in the UK was defeated by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons last September. However, campaigners continue to push for a liberalisation of the law. 

Additionally, a change to England’s assisted suicide prosecution policy in 2014, by the former Director of Public Prosecutions, has made it less likely that

British doctors who help a patient to commit suicide will face prosecution.

Disability campaigners Merv and Nikki Kenward have been challenging this amendment, supported by the Christian Legal Centre. 

Nikki Kenward was struck with Guillain Barre Syndrome in 1990, when she was 37 years old. Completely paralysed for five months, she today remains wheel-chair bound and cannot hold a needle or tie her shoelaces. 

Despite these difficulties, Mrs Kenward is a strong advocate for the protection of the vulnerable and opposes any liberalisation of assisted suicide law. 

Explaining why she brought the case, she said:

"It may appear a subtle change, but it is substantive and highly significant. It makes it less likely that doctors and other healthcare workers will be prosecuted if they encourage or assist suicide.

"People need to be able to trust that doctors will always protect life, not help to take it. This change undermines that trust. It is liberalisation by the back-door.

"The law is there to protect, but if it is to protect in practice, it must be enforced. The DPP quietly changed the policy without consultation. She must be held to account. Her action puts vulnerable people at risk from dodgy doctors."

 

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