Sunday, April 13, 2014

Belgium euthanasia: accelerating down the slippery slope

By Michael Cook, Mercatornet.com - April 13, 2014 (Link to the original).

Involuntary euthanasia is acceptable medical treatment, according to a recent official statement by the Belgian Society of Intensive Care Medicine. Although voluntary euthanasia is legal is Belgium under some circumstances, involuntary euthanasia is basically illegal.

The Society has decided (decreed may be a better word) that it is acceptable medical practice to euthanase patients in critical care who do not appear to have long to live -- even if they are not suffering, even if they are not elderly, even if their relatives have not requested it, even if they have not requested it and even if it is not legal.

The Society spells out its policy very carefully. It is not about grey areas like withdrawing burdensome or futile treatment or balancing pain relief against shortening a patient’s life. It clearly states that “shortening the dying process by administering sedatives beyond what is needed for patient comfort can be not only acceptable but in many cases desirable”.


“Shortening the dying process” is a euphemism for administering a lethal injection.

Most dying patients in intensive care have not made advance directives and “are usually not in a position to request euthanasia”. Therefore, “difficulty can arise when the purpose of the drugs used for comfort and pain relief in end-of-life management is misconstrued as deliberate use to speed the dying process.” The Society’s solution to this difficulty is to allow its members to kill the patients.

Effectively the Society has declared itself to be above the law. However, with the backing of the Society, it is unlikely that Belgian doctors would be prosecuted. It will be interesting to see how the government reacts.

The Society also says that intensive care doctors should inform relatives of a decision to euthanase a patient, but it does not instruct them to ask for the relatives’ permission. The policy applies to both adults and children. Furthermore, patients do not have to be suffering; “Shortening the dying process” can actually enhance death, the statement says.

The statement concludes by reassuring intensive care doctors that what they are doing is “not be interpreted as killing but as a humane act to accompany the patient at the end of his/her life.”

In February the lead author of the policy, Jean-Louis Vincent, a former president of the Society, published an op-ed in the leading Belgian newspaper Le Soir explaining the Society’s position. He complained that intensive care doctors were working in a “legal no man’s land” and that Belgium needs a law which bans overly aggressive therapy. He believes that advance directives are worse than useless and that doctors need to be able to give lethal injections to shorten lives which are no longer worth living, even if the patients have not given their consent. “The first purpose of medicine is to restore or maintain health, that is, the well-being of the individual, not life at all costs,” he wrote.

Does anyone need any more evidence to prove the existence of a slippery slope in Belgium?

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.


Link to other recent article:
Belgium ICU doctors kill patients.

1 comment:

Andy r said...

The over prescribing of painkiller drugs happens in countries without assisted dying laws - it doesn't suddenly spring into being as soon as assisted dying is legalised.

It's an attempt to solve a problem which has no good solution, and it's clearly different from when someone asks to die.

However, I do think that the courts should be involved, rather than just give doctors cart blanche to decide.

This issue needs to be openly addressed and decisions made in public rather than us submitting clandestine decisions from doctors - but it has fallen to doctors to do this precisely because we refuse to consider it in public.

I would also support a legal measure requring all adults to make a living will covering some of the more common circumstances - e.g. do I want to be kept alive, allowed to slip away etc? Again, this would make sense whether or not legalised euthanasia existed.

The "slippery slope" argument doesn't just work one way, you know.

You could equally argue "If we don't relieve suffering here, if we keep them alive no matter what, then we are on a slippery slope towards a future where medical technology prolongs lives in terrible agony for years." Think about it - what might happen in the future? How long must we be kept alive in a state where we can't even communicate?

Or, with assisted dying, you could say "if we deny their wishes here, we are on a slippery slope where we might take away their decisions to refuse treatment, or food and water, where we force them to stay alive and undergo whatver surgery we think best"

It just shows that everywhere we look we are surrounded by "slippery slopes", and that sticking to one extreme can't give us stability.

In truth, we are on a "knife edge" between highly unpleasant extremes.

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