By Alex SchadenbergExecutive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
The 2015 Belgian euthanasia data indicates that the number of euthanasia deaths continue to increase. According to the Belgian media, in 2015, there were 2021 reported deaths by euthanasia, up from 1924 reported euthanasia deaths in 2014.
But Wim Distelmans, the chairman of the euthanasia commission reminded the media that they cannot say for certain the actual number of euthanasia deaths. Distelmans stated:
"Remember, there could be some euthanasia cases carried out but which are not declared so we cannot say for certain what the position is."
Distelmans remarks are confirmed by research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on March 19 2015 concerning the euthanasia practice in Belgium which indicated that:
4.6% of all deaths in 2013 in the Flanders region were euthanasia.
.05% of all deaths in 2013 in the Flanders region were assisted suicide.
1.7% of all deaths in 2013 in the Flanders region were hastened without explicit request.
First: The data uncovered significant under-reporting of euthanasia in the Flanders region of Belgium. The official 2013 euthanasia data found that 2.4% of the deaths in the Flanders region were euthanasia, while the study examining all deaths found that 4.6% of the deaths in the Flanders region were euthanasia. Therefore nearly half of the euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium were not reported.
In January 2014, Dr Marc Cosyns, was quoted by De Standard news saying that he never reports his euthanasia deaths, even though it is a requirement of the Belgian euthanasia law.
Second: The data uncovered a significant cultural problem in with Belgian physicians hastening deaths without request. The Associated Press article reporting on the NEJM study interviewed Belgian ethicist Freddy Mortier as stating:
Mortier was not happy, however, that the 'hastening of death without explicit request from patients,' which can happen when a patient slumbers into unconsciousness or has lost the capacity for rational judgment, stood at 1.7 percent of cases in 2013. In the Netherlands, that figure was 0.2 percent.
There were 61,621 deaths in Flanders in 2013. The study reported that 1.7% of all deaths were hastened without explicit request, therefore it is likely that more than 1000 people died by a doctor intentionally causing their death without explicit request in 2013.
There were several controversial Belgian euthanasia cases in 2015.
- In June we learned that Psychiatrist, Dr Lieve Thienpont had approved the euthanasia death of a 24-year-old physically healthy woman who was living with suicidal ideation. The good news is that Emily has decided to live.
- In October the euthanasia death of Simona de Moor was sent for a review. It is likely that the review occurred because Dr Van Hooy agreed to have the decision making process and the death filmed.
In 2014, Belgium extended euthanasia to children. Distelmans stated that there were no reports of child euthanasia in 2015.
Euthanasia in Belgium has been approved for people with dementia, people with depression and other psychiatric conditions.