300 people gathered yesterday outside the Belgian headquarters of the Belgian Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission, the body charged by the government to control the use and application of the 2002 euthanasia laws, to protest at the ineffectiveness of the commission and also at the amendments to the law to allow euthanasia for children.(NB: The organizers claim that 500 protesters were present)
The group called 'Le Dossards Jaune' or 'the yellow jackets' sponsored the event. Wearing yellow safety jackets and holding yellow balloons, they highlighted the farcical nature of the euthanasia commission.
Etienne Dujardin, one of organizers of the event said, "By the reckoning of the President of the Board of Control, many cases of euthanasia are illegal in Belgium and many doctors do not come to the board, the statements required by law ... In 6000 cases of euthanasia since 2002 no file has been forwarded to the courts, which is statistically amazing."
The Yellow Jackets are also concerned that four members of the sixteen-member commission are publicly acknowledged pro-euthanasia activists and members of the ADMD (Association for the right to die with dignity).
Recent studies have highlighted the fact that, in parts of Belgium, the reporting rate of acts of euthanasia is only 52 per cent of the total deaths by euthanasia. Moreover, in many instances, the act of killing the patient is done by nurses - not doctors. Both the non-reporting and the killing by nurses is against the law yet, as Dujardin observes, no case has ever been referred to the Belgian courts in over 10 years. These unreported deaths were noted in the studies to be mainly for people over the age of 80, mostly in hospitals and nursing homes and often without request or consent.
The group is also concerned that the quorum required to refer a matter to the courts is too high and needs to be reduced for the sake of transparency and effectiveness of both the law and the commission.
|The Verbessem twins
The commission is jointly headed by Dr Wim Distelmans who is the public face of euthanasia in Belgium and is something of a 'rock-star' according to locals. He has been at the forefront of pushing at the established boundaries of euthanasia. In recent times he euthanased a woman whose sole complaint was treatable clinical depression, was involved in the deaths of twins who were going blind and the person who was suffering following a botched sex-change operation. Yet Distelmans sits in judgement on the commission. Is he ever likely to incriminate himself for his actions or any of his colleagues who are members of his very own pro-euthanasia movement?
|Cosyens and Distelmans
|Most recently, in a joint interview for the Belgian newspaper De Standard, his colleague Dr Marc Cosyns, a palliative care doctor, admitted to Distelmans that he does not report his own euthanasia cases. Distelmans appeared to be concerned when he replied: "But Marc, you cannot ignore the criminal law."
But ignore it he did and, even though the matter was now public, no action has been taken to date by either the Belgian authorities or Distelmans himself as co-chair of the commission.
The group also said "From next week a letter will go to all the presidents of political parties. We ask them to respond concretely to our proposals and we will disclose publicly. We ask them to take care of these issues as a priority and not a possible extension of a law out of control children."
Other events are being planned.
With the mass of international press focussing negatively on the Belgian move towards euthanasia for children and for dementia sufferers and the growing disquiet about the work of Distelmans and his colleagues, we wonder what affect this is having upon the fragile Belgian Government that is expected to go to the polls mid-year.