Last year the London Telegraph ran a travel article about Belgium, “10 reasons why Belgium is not as boring as you think”. A bit patronising, right?
Personally, I’d never call a country which has dared to legalise euthanasia boring. Anything but. This is a defiant poke in the eye to hundreds of years of Western civilisation. Whether you agree with Belgium’s regime of legalised euthanasia or not, it is a wildly exciting experiment in disrupting established social norms.
The latest news is that a whistleblower has accused the country’s euthanasia commission of breaking the law, muzzling dissent, and packing the commission with euthanasia practitioners.
Dr Ludo Vanopdenbosch, a neurologist who was a member of the Federal Commission for Euthanasia Control and Evaluation for several years, resigned in September 2017. Associated Press recently obtained the letter of resignation that Dr Vanopdenbosch sent to senior politicians, which explains his dissatisfaction with the oversight processes of the Commission. “I do not want to be part of a committee that deliberately violates the law,” he wrote.
He was making these allegations even though he describes himself as a strong supporter of euthanasia.
According to the letter, the Commission failed to refer to authorities a doctor who Vanopdenbosch says euthanised a demented patient without consent. The letter outlines the basic details of the case – the patient, whose identity was not disclosed, was euthanised at the family’s request, and there was no record of any prior request for euthanasia from the patient. Vanopdenbosch described the doctor as “totally incompetent”.
At a meeting on September 17 last year, the members of the commission even watched a video of the man, who had Parkinson’s disease as well as dementia. There was no doubt that he was “a deeply demented patient”. They discussed the issue for hours, and eventually decided not to refer the case to the public prosecutor to see if criminal charges should be laid.
Vanopdenbosch commented that “the reasons of those who did not want to forward it are fundamentally political in nature: to defend euthanasia at all costs”.
“It’s not euthanasia because the patient didn’t ask, so it’s the voluntary taking of a life,” said Dr An Haekens, psychiatric director at the Alexianen Psychiatric Hospital in Tienen, Belgium. “I don’t know another word other than murder to describe this.”
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The euthanasia of psychologically incompetent patients is a huge issue in Belgium. More than 360 doctors, academics and others have since signed a petition calling for tighter controls on euthanasia for psychiatric patients.
But the death of this patient was not Vanopdenbosch’s only complaint. He states in the letter that when he expressed concerns about other potentially problematic cases, he was immediately “silenced” by other members of the Commission. He suggests that because many of the doctors on the commission are leading euthanasia practitioners, they can protect each other from scrutiny, and act with “impunity”. In many other countries this would be called corruption.
Of course, the two co-chairs of the commission, Dr Wim Distelmans and Gilles Genicot, have strongly denied that there has been any negligence. “It can obviously occur that some debate emerges among members but our role is to make sure that the law is observed and certainly not to trespass it,” they said. They also denied that Vanopdenbosch had been muzzled.
There is more than enough material here for a searing indictment of a respected institution, a kind of Belgian Watergate. You would think that the Belgian media would be baying for blood.
Nope. Perhaps they’re too busy tucking into their Brussel sprouts.
It was an American news agency, Associated Press, which broke the story. As far as I can see, it has been reported around the world, but not in Belgium. It’s a funny kind of journalism which ignores such a big story. Perhaps the media there believes that Belgium really is as boring as you think. Or perhaps they are in the pocket of the euthanasia lobby.