The following article was published on the blog of Alex Schadenberg on December 24, 2013.
By Dr. Georges Casteur and Dr. Sc. Tom Mortier
This article was published in Dutch by the Belgian Medical Newspaper (www.artsenkrant.com) and in French by “Le Journal du Médecin” on December 20, 2013.
The Belgian Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission, more commonly called the Euthanasia Commission was established by the Belgian 2002 Euthanasia Act. This committee has as its main task to ensure an after-the-fact application of the law by the doctors who practice euthanasia.
The physician must complete after each act of euthanasia a document consisting of two parts. The first part contains specific information such as the name of the patient and the physician consulted. This document is confidential and the Euthanasia Commission does not have access to it at first.
The second component is anonymous and contains diagnostic and other circumstances that led to euthanasia. It is only in case of doubt that the committee may decide by a simple majority to consult the first part. The Euthanasia Commission can, by a two-thirds majority, decide to refer the case to the prosecutor. Since 2002, over 8,000 cases of euthanasia have been recorded. Those cases reported to the Euthanasia Commission were “controlled” as “anonymous” as described above. However these “two words” deserve reflection.
In 11 years, no case has been referred to the prosecutor for reasons that are inherent in the law itself: • every physician knows how to complete the second part of the document, to not get into trouble; • there are operational issues with the Euthanasia Commission that several recent events have shown.
Some registration documents concerning acts of euthanasia were performed by the President of the Euthanasia Commission himself, and other members of this commission appear to be in a conflict of interest. For example, the President of the Euthanasia Commission practiced on September 30 2013, under the gaze of cameras, euthanasia in a transsexual, who became depressed after surgery for sex reassignment. This file was publicized in the extreme and has been submitted by this same President to the Euthanasia Commission. However, the President nevertheless stated publicly that this act fits perfectly within the statutory criteria of the law. How could the members of the Euthanasia Commission possibly still oppose this case when their President already played publicly the judge and the executioner?
Moreover, this same president said in front of the cameras that he already has practiced euthanasia on foreigners who had found their way to our country for a lethal injection.
To what extent will the members of this committee oppose such abuses?
Is it surprising that the impartiality of the commission, as required by law, is in doubt?
How can this Committee accept as its president a man who presents himself in the media as a judge and a jury?
Should we wonder why no file has been referred for prosecution so far?
We come to the conclusion that even the most strict application of the law to prevent abuses doesn’t work. Therefore, the Euthanasia Commission has no control function at all, but only an administrative record function!
When even the president of the Euthanasia Committee is profiling himself openly as a judge and a jury, it seems all the more important that the operation and the impartiality of this commission is severely questioned. It is high time to consider a solution such as a before the act control commission or the replacement of the Euthanasia Commission by a panel of judges, advised by doctors if necessary.
Dr. Georges Casteur, General Practitioner, Ostend
Dr. Sc. Tom Mortier, The Department of Health and Technology, Leuven University College