Belgium experts ask for end to euthanasia based on mental health problems
Flanders Today 10 December 2015
Euthanasia should no longer be carried out on the basis of psychological suffering alone, according to 65 Belgian psychiatrists, psychologists and professors in an op-ed published by De Morgen this week.
On average, 2,000 people a year in Belgium choose to end their lives through euthanasia. Most are terminally ill, but about 3% of them request the procedure because of unbearable psychological suffering. In the past two years, there were about 100 such cases.
The experts said they were “alarmed by the trivialisation” of the option. It cannot be objectively determined whether psychological suffering is incurable, they wrote, and pointed out that feelings of despair are typical of depression.
Wim Distelmans, palliative health-care professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and president of the Federal Euthanasia Commission, emphasised that the option is only available to those who have chronic and serious mental health problems. “It is only for those who have tried different medications, therapies and therapists for many years,” he said, adding that some patients, knowing they can turn to euthanasia if necessary, have found the strength to carry on.
Distelmans has received support from political parties Open-Vld and SP.A. Open-Vld president Gwendolyn Rutten told Radio 1 that the measure is not available to just anyone who suffers from depression.
Euthanasia-Free NZ 8 December 2015
Remove euthanasia on the ground of purely psychological suffering from the law
Death as therapy?
We, representatives of various relevant occupational groups, are alarmed about the increasing trivializing of euthanasia on the ground of psychological suffering only.
For the first time since the law was put into effect in 2002, a decision to allow euthanasia – the case of De Moor / Van Hoey – has been challenged by the evaluation committee and forwarded to the judiciary. The Australian broadcaster SBS made a documentary about this euthanasia case and the conversations between the patient and the doctor. The Economist also published a poignant video report (24 and Ready to Die) on a 24-year-old young lady from Bruges who was granted euthanasia on grounds of psychological suffering, but ultimately declined its execution.
In our open letter in the Artsenkrant “Doctors’ Newspaper” (September 2015) we noted the legal uncertainty of a doctor approving euthanasia based solely on psychological suffering. In this opinion piece we want to draw attention to its specific problematic character, and in particular the fact that it’s impossible to objectify the hopelessness of psychological suffering.
One would expect that this incurability is founded on indications of for example, organic injury or tissue damage – in other words, factors that are independent of what is subjectively felt and thought about the illness. Such objectification is problematic in relation to psychological suffering.
Let’s be clear: psychological suffering is real and can be at least as severe as physical suffering. However, specific to mental suffering is the fact that you can rely only on the word of the sufferer to estimate it. And this is a good thing, because he or she is the only one who knows how much it hurts at that moment. At that moment… because when we suffer psychologically, we are often convinced that no other future is possible anymore. It is often precisely this thought that pushes a person into an abyss, because as long as there is perspective, a person can usually tolerate much.
We see that some who are at first declared incurably ill, eventually abandon the notion of euthanasia because new perspectives appeared. In a paradoxical way, this proves that the illness cannot be called incurable.
Thanks to Renee Joubert from Euthanasia-Free NZ for translating the document