New Belgium Rules Would Force Doctors to Euthanize Patients or Refer to a Doctor Who Will

International   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Mar 16, 2016   |   11:10AM   |   Washington, DC

It is a frightening time to be a doctor in Belgium. Legislators in the small European country are considering new rules that would force doctors to help euthanize patients against their better judgment.

The Daily Mail reports the radical proposal has wide-spread support in Belgium’s parliament. According to the proposed rules, doctors treating patients who want to be euthanized must either approve the patient’s request within seven days or refer them to a doctor who will.

If that isn’t deadly enough, the proposals also would require doctors to treat the euthanasia requests as urgent cases and rush patients through the process. This supposedly is to prevent doctors from attempting to persuade the patients to take time to consider other options or change their minds.

There would be no exceptions allowed for religious-based medical groups, according to the report.

A few legislators are vocally opposing the rules. Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx recently tabled the proposals, and Lord Carlile of Berriew called on doctors to speak up against the radical new rules.

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“The covert and major decrease in the protection of sick and vulnerable people in Belgium is of great concern,” Lord Carlile said. “Euthanasia merely on demand looms, without stringent ethical tests or protection against undue influence. It is astonishing that Belgian politicians, doctors, ethicists and scientists remain so silent in the face of these changes in Belgian law.”

According to the report, euthanasia deaths in Belgium have been climbing rapidly since 2008, and the country expects to have euthanized more than 6,000 people by the end of 2016.

The rules are just the next step in Belgium’s deadly slide toward a culture where vulnerable people, especially the elderly and disabled, are deemed unfit to live.

In 2014, the country extended euthanasia to children with disabilities in a move that pro-life advocates world-wide feared would come, LifeNews reported. No age limit was set in the law, but the children who are euthanized are required to “possess the capacity of discernment.” The legislation permits a child to request euthanasia, with the consent of his parents, if there is a terminal diagnosis accompanied by great pain with no available treatment options. The measure also extends euthanasia to persons suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The country’s euthanasia laws also have led to many unnecessary deaths of people who struggled with treatable psychological disorders such as depression. These include Godelieva De Troyer (64), a healthy Belgian woman who was living with depression and Ann G (44) who asked for euthanasia for psychological pain after being sexually exploited by her psychiatrist, who was treating her for Anorexia.

In June, Belgium doctors also signed a 24-year-old’s request for euthanasia because she said she struggled with thoughts of suicide, the Euthanasia Prevention Commission reported to LifeNews.

A few doctors are speaking out against the country’s push for euthanasia. In December, a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers and others published a letter in De Morgen, a Flemish newspaper, calling on the government to end euthanasia based solely on psychological suffering. They cited the case of another 24-year-old woman named Emily who was granted euthanasia based on psychological distress but later changed her mind.

“Let us be clear. Mental suffering is real and can be at least as severe as physical suffering,” they wrote. “What is unique, however, is that you can only rely on the word of the person who is suffering to evaluate it. And this is clearly a good thing, because he or she is the only one who knows how much it hurts at that precise moment. At that moment indeed … because when we suffer psychologically, we are often convinced that no other future is possible.”

The doctors said these patients should be treated, not rushed into irreversible euthanasia.

“We see that some people who were first declared terminally ill eventually abandon euthanasia because new prospects appear. In a paradoxical way, this proves that the disease cannot be called incurable,” they wrote. “It is for this reason that euthanasia on the grounds of mental suffering alone cannot be regulated by law.”

Last March, the chairman of the federal euthanasia commission in Belgium admitted that 50 to 60 euthanasia deaths are done on psychiatric patients each year. There has never been an attempted prosecution for abuse of the euthanasia law in Belgium.

Similar cases are occurring in the Netherlands, and the Canadian government currently is mulling new rules to allow euthanasia for people who experience physical or psychological pain.