The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) Europe was launched on Wednesday November 13 with a press conference in Brussels Belgium at 2:30 pm at the European Parliament followed by a euthanasia debate in the evening between Dr. Jan Bernheim, an oncologist, medical researcher and biomedical consultant and Alex Schadenberg (myself), the executive director and International Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. Bernheim is a physician who lobbied for the legalization of euthanasia in Belgium.
The evening event, known as the ‘Great Debate,’ started with introductions by the sponsoring groups and then a short speech by Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, the director of EPC Europe and a leader of Not Dead Yet UK. The evening continued with the debate and then there was a question and answer session with Dr Jan Bernheim and Professor Etienne Vermeersch (an author of the Belgian euthanasia law) with Carine Brochier (the European Institute of Bioethics) and myself
Bernheim spoke first in the debate. He explained that euthanasia is necessary to eliminate suffering, and that euthanasia was already occurring in Belgium before it was legal and since euthanasia is legal it is now regulated. He stated that the number of euthanasia deaths did not increase after legalization.
Bernheim also explained that in Belgium, he was a pioneer in palliative care. He stated that:
Unlike the Dame Cicily Saunders who developed palliative care in the UK to prevent euthanasia, Bernheim developed palliative care in Belgium in order to legalize euthanasia.
During the debate I went through the data from the recent Belgian studies indicating that: 32% of the assisted deaths are done without request, that 47% of the assisted deaths are not being reported, and that nurses were euthanizing patients, even though the law specifically states that only doctors can do euthanasia.
I explained that the data proves that the assisted deaths that are done without request, the assisted deaths that are done by nurses and the unreported assisted deaths share a high co-relation with the same demographic group, that being people who are over the age of 80, who are incompetent to make decisions, who die in a hospital and usually have an unpredictable end-of-life trajectory. This is a vulnerable patient group at risk of having euthanasia imposed upon them. Sadly these people are also known as bed blockers.
I also spoke about the recent euthanasia cases in Belgium, including: the Belgian twins who died by euthanasia because they feared becoming blind, the woman with Anorexia Nervosa who died by euthanasia after her psychiatrist had sexual relations with her, the depressed woman who died by euthanasia, and the person who died by euthanasia after a botched sex change operation.
All of these euthanasia deaths were done for the reason of psychological suffering, a term which cannot be defined and is being done to an ever expanding group of people. Usually these people are not terminally ill nor physically suffering, who are being abandoned by a system that would rather kill them than provide them with excellent medical care and social support.
I stated that legalizing euthanasia is not safe and that the supposed “safeguards” are often ignored and do not work.I also stated that people who do not want euthanasia are not protected by the law, but rather the law protects the doctors who euthanize their patients. There has never been an attempted prosecution for killing a person outside of the parameters of the Belgian euthanasia law.
We then went to the question and answer session.
Bernheim and Vermeersch insisted that the practise of euthanasia has improved since 2002, when euthanasia was legalized in Belgium and they also insisted that similar problems exist in nations where euthanasia is not legal.
Vermeersch, blaimed the Walloons, the french region of Belgium, for the problems with the euthanasia law, even though all of the studies that I referred to were from the Flanders Region of Belgium.
Vermeersch also suggested that there were not enough euthanasia deaths occurring because Catholic hospitals frowned on euthanasia. I stated that, sadly his comment was not correct since a 2011 Belgian study found that only 5% of the requests for euthanasia in Belgium are refused.
Finally Vermeersch explained that the euthanasia law was specifically designed to allow people with disabilities or chronic conditions to die by euthanasia. When Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, the director of EPC Europe and a leader of Not Dead Yet UK asked him to clarify his statement, he said:
Just wait until you are paralysed.
As the questions from the audience became more intense, Bernheim then stated:
There are problems with the Belgian euthanasia law.
He then stated that there is a study that may be published soon where the data shows other problems with the practise of euthanasia in Belgium.
Then Bernheim, once again, insisted that these same problems occur in nations where euthanasia is prohibited.
I stated that there are problems in Canada, but doctors do not have access to Barbituates to kill their patients, meaning that we are not comparing apples to apples.
I also stated that in Canada, if a complaint were filed about a doctor who intentionally kills a patient, that the doctor could be prosecuted with homicide, which is a very serious crime, whereas in Belgium where many euthanasia deaths are done outside of the law, that there has never been an attempted prosecution.
Carine Brochier thanked Bernheim for admitting that the Belgian euthanasia law is abused. She pointed out that the recent 10 year report on the practise of euthanasia and a recent book on the Belgian euthanasia law has received significant attention outside of Belgium but no attention in Belgium.
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Bernheim and the euthanasia lobby ignore that euthanasia is the direct and intentional killing of a person. Abuses of the euthanasia law amount to intentional killings, acts that are defined as homicide or manslaughter in nearly every jurisdiction in the world.
It is nice that Bernheim admitted that there are problems with the practise of euthanasia in Belgium but that is cold comfort to people who are dead.
Laws that prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide are designed to protect people.
The press conference in the afternoon was also a great success.
The event opened with comments from David Fieldsend, the manager of CARE for Europe, he was followed by Sari Essayah, a member of the European Parliament from Finland who also sponsored the event. I then followed Sari by explaining the how important it is that EPC – Europe is being launched to oppose the legalization of euthanasia in Europe and to push back where euthanasia has already become legal.
The feature of the press conference was Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, the director of EPC Europe. Fitzpatrick explained how euthanasia was a form of discrimination for people with disabilities and other vulnerable people. He also spoke about how euthanasia is being falsely promoted as a form of personal autonomy.
Fitzpatrick made it very clear that euthanasia is not safe and that judgements that determine that a person’s life is not worth living are particularly dangerous for people who have already been socially devalued in society.
‘EPC-Europe brings people from a wide variety of backgrounds together to oppose the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide, promote the best care and support for vulnerable people and to help people to find meaning, purpose and hope in the face of suffering and despair. We invite others who share our concerns to join us and work alongside us.’
On November 14th I was interviewed by a German TV station.
I would like to thank the many people who organized the press conference and the “Great Debate” on November 13th in Brussels. Several people who attended the debate stated that they never hear about what is really happening with euthanasia in Belgium. Some of those who attended the “Great Debate” stated to me afterwards that they now understand why legalizing euthanasia is not safe. It was a great success and is an incredible beginning for EPC Europe.
Link to a youtube video on the EPC-Europe launch and debate.