Top Activists For and Against Euthanasia Square Off in Debate

International   |   Paul Russell   |   Nov 27, 2013   |   6:06PM   |   Brussels, Belgium

On the 13th of November in the Goethe Institute in Brussels, Alex Schadenberg, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International, debated noted pro-euthanasia medical academic, Dr Jan Bernheim. The panel discussion afterwards included Carine Brochier from the European Bioethics Institute (on the no side) and Professor Etienne Vermeersch, one of the authors of the Belgian euthanasia legislation and a government advisor.

The debate became quite animated at times and even heated for a moment or two. Both Bernheim and Vermeersch tried in different ways to make it a ‘Catholics versus sensible people’ debate; which neither Schadenberg nor Brochier bought into at all. Vermeersch at one point declaring his frustration that euthanasia practice in Belgium was being hampered by Catholic-run hospitals (“there are not enough euthanasia deaths occurring”) and even going so far as to blame ‘the Walloons’ – the predominantly French-speaking region in south Belgium – for not embracing Belgian death culture.

Bernheim opened by drawing our attention to the typhoon disaster in the Philippines. The context however was made clear in the very next statement where Bernhiem expounded his theory that climate change was caused by over-population. In saying as much, Bernheim declared himself a card-carrying Malthusian. One wonders what effect this kind of thinking has had upon his drive to bring euthanasia to Belgium.
Bernheim then explained that it was he who first visited the UK to study the hospice movement with a view to bringing palliative care practice to his homeland. He then suggested to the audience that, while Dame Cicily Saunders’ aim in creating the hospice movement was to stop euthanasia, that his reasoning for wanting to bring hospice to Belgium was precisely the reverse – to also bring with it the deliberate killing of patients. He misreads Saunders’ aims to make a chilling point.
He then proceeded to show the audience some data on the increase in government spending on palliative care services in Belgium adding that Belgian practice was now amongst the best in Europe. Given that acts of euthanasia are conducted falsely within the paradigm of palliative care, we are left to wonder what the real position vis-à-vis the European context would be if spending on the killing of patients were removed from these totals. Moreover, given both Bernheim and Vermeersch’s continual references to Belgians dying in excruciating pain it is legitimate to ask whether their palliative care services are indeed world class or just how much access Belgians have to these services?

Schadenberg simply asked the question: is euthanasia safe?
He then gave a number of contemporary examples of situations that earlier would have been considered to be outside even the Belgian law. We think of stories such as Nathan Verhelst who sought euthanasia after botched sex-change surgery; the Verbessem twins who sought euthanasia because they were going blind; the woman with Anorexia Nervosa who was euthanased after exposing that her psychiatrist was sexually abusing her and a woman who died by euthanasia who was clinically depressed.
Schadenberg went on to relate the studies concluded from data collected in the Flanders Region of Belgium that showed that almost half of the deaths were not reported, that of those reported there was no evidence of request in 32% of cases.

“…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.” Said Schadenberg.

LifeNews Note: Based in Australia, Paul Russell is a leading campaigner against euthanasia.