By Alex SchadenbergExecutive Director and International Chair - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) (March 17, 2015) published the basic statistics related to a new study titled: Recent Trends in Euthanasia and Other End-of-Life Practices in Belgium.
Similar to previous studies, this study sent questionnaires to 6188 physicians in Flanders Belgium, who had certified death certificates in the first half of 2013. The study received a 60.6% response rate by receiving 3751 returned questionnaires.
The data indicates that:
1. The percentage of euthanasia deaths increased from 1.9% of all deaths in 2007 to 4.6% of all deaths in 2013 representing a 242% increase in 6 years.
2. The percentage of assisted suicide deaths decreased from .07% of all deaths in 2007 to .05% of all deaths in 2013 representing no statistical difference.
3. The percentage of requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide increased from 3.5% of all deaths in 2007 to 6.0% of all deaths in 2013.
4. The percentage of requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide that were granted increased from 56.3% in 2007 to 76.8% in 2013.
A significant and continuous problem is the number of hastened deaths without explicit request from the patient in Belgium.
In 2007, 1.8% of all deaths were hastened deaths without explicit request while in 2013, 1.7% of all deaths were hastened deaths without explicit request.
Further research needs to be done concerning these deaths without explicit request. In 2007, approximately 1 in 3 hastened deaths without explicit request were euthanasia. The basic statistics that were published in this NEJM does not indicate the percentage of hastened deaths without request that were euthanasia.
The study also indicates that the use of Continuous deep sedation until death decreased from 14.5% of all deaths in 2007 to 12% of all deaths in 2013. It is possible that the increase in euthanasia deaths accounts for much of the decrease in deaths by Continuous deep sedation.
Continuous deep sedation until death is known as "slow euthanasia" when the physician sedates a patient, who is not otherwise dying, and withdraws water and food, in order to cause death by dehydration.
The issue of Continuous deep sedation has become very important now that the government of France is debating a bill to widen the application of Continuous deep sedation.
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