International

Belgium legalized assisted death 20 years ago… and 30,000 people have died as a result

Belgium, euthanasia

Twenty years ago, on May 28, 2002, Belgium adopted a right-to-die law which allowed people to be killed through assisted suicide and euthanasia. It was only the second country in the world to do so, after the Netherlands, and it has ushered in two decades of death. Despite the celebration from those who support assisted suicide, this anniversary is not one to celebrate.

Marc Decroly is a doctor who has participated in the deaths of over 100 of his patients, and spoke about the 20-year landmark with EuroNews. He continued in another interview with Barron’s, saying euthanasia is health care — the same as treatment that actually save lives, as opposed to taking them.

“Euthanasia is a treatment like any other; the difference is that it’s a final treatment,” he said. “Euthanasia is never easy. But it’s the end point of a process undertaken with the patient and their family. It’s a way to bring closure, with relief.”

He also argued that saving lives is no different to him than taking them. “To the contrary — it’s all part of the same. I think that the person to be euthanised is no more or less important than the ones to be saved. They are simply in different situations,” and added that it’s a positive that people can shop around for someone who might be willing to kill them. “If a doctor says no, the process doesn’t stop there. They can be transferred to other people who might see their situation differently.”

ADF International pointed out that after 20 years, nearly 30,000 people have been euthanized. And the number has climbed year after year. In 2003, there were 235 people killed in total; by 2021, there were seven people being killed every day, making over 2,500 people killed that year alone. Twenty percent of the people euthanized in 2021 were not expected to die in the near future.

“A fair and just society cares for its most vulnerable. International law protects everyone’s inherent right to life,” Jean-Paul Van De Walle, legal counsel for ADF International in Brussels, Belgium, said in a statement. “It requires countries to protect the inherent dignity and lives of all people, rather than to help end those lives.

“Sadly, over the years in Belgium, we have seen far too many people end their lives rather than have the care and support that they require to live,” he continued. “In one very moving case – the only so far that has been brought before a criminal tribunal – the life of a 38-year-old woman diagnosed with autism, Tine Nys, was tragically ended by euthanasia due to her battle with mental health issues. Surely such vulnerable groups deserve better care and support to live.”

READ: Belgium to consider expanding euthanasia access for those with dementia

Belgium’s euthanasia law is currently being challenged by Tom Mortier, represented by ADF International, over the death of his mother. Mortier’s mother died through assisted suicide, though her only diagnosis was chronic depression. “The big problem in our society is that apparently, we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other,” Mortier said in a statement released by ADF International. “My mother had a severe mental problem. She had to cope with depression throughout her life. She was treated for years by psychiatrists and eventually the contact between us was broken. A year later she received a lethal injection. Neither the oncologist who administered the injection nor the hospital had informed me or any of my siblings that our mother was even considering euthanasia. I found out a day later when I was contacted by the hospital, asking me to take care of the practicalities.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in Geneva, Switzerland, also criticized Belgium for its euthanasia law, largely due to its treatment of people with disabilities and the elderly. Despite that, Belgium is still looking to expand its euthanasia program to allow people with dementia to be killed. This is in addition to their existing program, which allows infants and children to be euthanized; one study even found that 10% of babies born in northern Belgium had been euthanized. Other studies have found that the few safeguards Belgium does have in place against euthanasia are not followed.

“The slippery slope is on full public display in Belgium,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International and lead counsel for Tom Mortier at the European Court of Human Rights in Mortier v. Belgium. “Tom Mortier’s case exposes the lie that euthanasia is good for society. International law has never established a so-called ‘right to die.’ On the contrary, it solidly affirms the right to life – particularly for the most vulnerable among us.”

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