AFP | DECEMBER 19, 2012
Belgium is considering a significant change to its decade-old euthanasia law that would allow minors and Alzheimer’s sufferers to seek permission to die.
The proposed changes to the law were submitted to parliament Tuesday by the Socialist party and are likely to be approved by other parties, although no date has yet been put forward for a parliamentary debate.
“The idea is to update the law to take better account of dramatic situations and extremely harrowing cases we must find a response to,” party leader Thierry Giet said.
The draft legislation calls for “the law to be extended to minors if they are capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate.”
Belgium was the second country in the world after the Netherlands to legalise euthanasia in 2002 but it applies only to people over the age of 18.
Socialist Senator Philippe Mahoux, who helped draft the proposed changes, said there had been cases of adolescents who “had the capacity to decide” their future.
He said parliamentarians would also consider extended mercy-killing to people suffering from Alzheiner’s-type illnesses.
Euthanasia was allowed to an Alzheimer’s patient for the first time in the Netherlands last year.
In Belgium, some 1,133 cases — mostly for terminal cancer — were recorded in 2011, about one percent of all deaths in the country, according to official figures.
A seriously ill prisoner serving a long jail sentence this year became the first inmate to die under Belgium’s euthanasia laws.
France should allow doctors to “accelerate the coming of death” for terminally ill patients, a report to President Francois Hollande recommended Tuesday.
Hollande referred the report to a national council on medical ethics which will examine the precise circumstances under which such steps could be authorised with a view to producing draft legislation by June 2013.
“The existing legislation does not meet the legitimate concerns expressed by people who are gravely and incurably ill,” Hollande said.
The report said physicians should be allowed to authorise interventions that ensure quicker deaths for terminal patients in three specific sets of circumstances.
In the first case, the patient involved would be capable of making an explicit request to that effect or have issued advance instructions in the event of him or her becoming incapable of expressing an opinion.
The second scenario envisages medical teams withdrawing treatment and/or nourishment on the basis of a request by the family of a dying patient who is no longer conscious and has not made any instructions.
The third would apply to cases where treatment is serving only to sustain life artificially.
The author of the report, Professor Didier Sicard, stressed that he did not support any measures which “suddenly and prematurely end life.”
“We are radically opposed to inscribing euthanasia in law,” Sicard told a press conference.
He also stressed that he was not advocating Swiss-style clinics where people are provided with lethal medication to enable them to end their own lives.
Instead, Sicard said he favoured amendments to a 2005 law which already authorises doctors to administer painkilling drugs at levels they know will, as a secondary effect, shorten a patient’s life.
Sicard’s report was drawn up after extensive consultation with the terminally ill and their families which revealed widespread dissatisfaction with a “cure at all costs” culture in the medical establishment.