Since 2002, when euthanasia was approved in Belgium, 24,000 people have died using this method, which represents 2% of those who die each year.

In that country, certain requirements must be met for a person to request euthanasia: The law contemplates physical and psychiatric conditions. People must suffer constant and unbearable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be cured. When death is not expected in the short term, there is an additional application process, a third doctor must be consulted, and there must be a one-month waiting period between the application and the act itself.

Whoever meets any of the above conditions must request eutanasia on two separate occasions, in writing. If the doctor determines that the applicant has no chance of improvement and decides that euthanasia is appropriate, one month after the second request, the injection with the drugs thiopental, morphine, a neuroparalytic or barbiturates is administered.

The Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia publishes each year a statistical report on the number of euthanasias carried out, however, according to Léopold Vanbellingen, a researcher at the European Institute of Bioethics, there are between 25 and 35% of euthanasias that are not declared and therefore would be illegal.

According to the report published by the Belgian Federal Public Health Service with the euthanasia data for the year 2021, most of the cases occurred in people between 60 and 89 years old, in more than half of the cases euthanasia had place at home and the main disease for which euthanasia was requested was cancer. No euthanasia of minors has been recorded in 2021.

If we look at the data published in the reports of the Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, there is an increase in cases since 2018, with a slight decrease in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The disease for which euthanasia is requested most frequently is cancer (62.8% in 2021), followed by polypathologies (17.2%). In 80% of the cases, the euthanasia applicants received a diagnosis of short-term mortality.

In the case of minors, there have been hardly any requests for euthanasia since the practice was legalized in 2014, but they could have been completely avoided if children and adolescents were offered quality palliative care.

Bioethical assessment

The legalization of practices such as euthanasia, which should never be considered as medical acts, leads to two serious consequences that should be pointed out.

On the one hand, the fact that a practice that consists of deliberately causing the death of a human being is declared legal, causes a “moralizing” effect on a part of the population that tends to confuse what is legal with what is ethically correct. Positions contrary to any homicidal practice may cease to be so when the alredy said practice becomes legal.

On the other hand, the proven “slippery slope”, on which we have previously published reflections, should not be forgotten,: the demands initially raised to practice euthanasia tend to relax over time, so that the narrow scope of initial application -terminal illnesses accompanied of uncontrollable suffering- progressively extends to minors, the mentally ill or, simply, people tired of living.

Palliative care in chronic and incurable diseases currently has effective means to deal with the suffering associated with serious diseases, providing the patient with the treatment that his dignity deserves. The option of ending the life of the patient supposes an unjustifiable abandonment of the duty to accompany, treat, relieve and palliate his refractory symptoms, so that he can face the final stage of his life with dignity and die in peace.

No one should be involved in it, least of all those who have chosen to care for patients by preventing, treating or alleviating their illnesses to improve their quality of life, never to end it.

Many suffering patients give up their desire for early death if they are treated properly, physically, mentally and spiritually.

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