Euthanasia in Belgium

After Miet Smet, former Federal Minister and former Member of European Parliament told she would be keen to be subject to euthanasia when it should happen; it’s worth having a look at the Belgian legislation.

Euthanasia has long been pondered over the past decades in most European countries. It raises both ethical and scientific issues, and it is a topic that induces deep debates in society and politics.

Smet recently brought the discussion back to the forefront. She said on Friday that she would like to be euthanised when she can no longer liver healthy and fit. It is not a big deal in Belgium, as it is one of the rare countries in the European Union that have partially decriminalised the act; together with the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

But what does the law allow? The bill which made it possible in Belgium was voted in 2002. Should a sick person aim to end their life, they can ask the doctor to proceed under two conditions: a formal demand if the patient is aware and mentally capable or an anticipated declaration before the patient becomes irreversibly unconscious. In both cases, only the patient can apply for euthanasia, and a doctor faces prison if he/she does not comply with the legal provisions.

When it comes to a formal demand, the patient should fulfil some conditions. They should be able to express their will and be conscious; they must be in a terminal medical situation; they suffer constant, insupportable and inappeasable pains. Since 2014, an under 18-year-old person also can apply for euthanasia if he or she fulfils the conditions above.

The anticipated declaration only applies to adults (over 18 years-old) and emancipated under-18s. In such a case, the person writes a letter in which he or she allows a doctor to practise euthanasia when he or she can’t express his/her will in a critical situation. Before acting, the doctor should check whether the patient suffers a critical and incurable disease, whether he or she is unconscious and whether the medical situation is irreversible (under the current scientific state of play).

Although people can fulfil these conditions, let make a point clear: euthanasia is not a right. It means that a person isn’t automatically granted the right of being euthanasia because of massive pains, and a doctor has the freedom to choose not to make it. It is, however, a more flexible rule that many others across Europe have, and some foreigners even use this rule and come to Belgium to die on their terms.