By Alex Schadenberg
Editor’s note. The following is excerpted from a post on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) Europe was launched on Wednesday November 13 with a press conference in Brussels, Belgium at 2:30 pm at the European Parliament. This was followed by a euthanasia debate in the evening between Dr. Jan Bernheim, an oncologist, medical researcher and biomedical consultant and myself, the executive director and International Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. Bernheim is a physician who lobbied for the legalization of euthanasia in Belgium.
The evening event, known as the ‘Great Debate,’ started with introductions by the sponsoring groups and then a short speech by Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick, the director of EPC Europe and a leader of Not Dead Yet UK. The evening continued with the debate, followed by a question and answer session with four people: Dr. Jan Bernheim and Professor Etienne Vermeersch (an author of the Belgian euthanasia law) on one side with Carine Brochier (the European Institute of Bioethics) and myself on the other.
Bernheim spoke first in the debate. He argued that euthanasia is necessary to eliminate suffering, and that euthanasia was already occurring in Belgium before it was legal and since euthanasia is legal, it is now regulated. He stated that the number of euthanasia deaths did not increase after legalization.
Bernheim used data in his presentation that was limited to 2002-2007 statistics and he did not include any of the more recent data that uncovers abuses of the law.
Bernheim also explained that in Belgium, he was a pioneer in palliative care. He stated that unlike Dame Cicily Saunders who developed palliative care in the UK to prevent euthanasia, Bernheim said he developed palliative care in Belgium in order to legalize euthanasia.
During the debate I went through the data from the recent Belgian studies indicating that: 32% of the assisted deaths are done without request, that 47% of the assisted deaths are not being reported, and that nurses were euthanizing patients, even though the law specifically states that only doctors can do euthanasia.
I explained that the data proves that assisted deaths are done without request and that the assisted deaths that are done by nurses and the unreported assisted deaths share a high correlation. By this I meant that they are the same demographic group–people who are over the age of 80, who are incompetent to make decisions, who die in a hospital and usually have an unpredictable end-of-life trajectory.
This is a vulnerable patient group at risk of having euthanasia imposed upon them. Sadly these people are also known as “bed blockers.”
I also spoke about recent euthanasia cases in Belgium, including: the Belgian twins who died by euthanasia because they feared becoming blind, the woman with Anorexia Nervosa who died by euthanasia after her psychiatrist had sexual relations with her, the depressed woman who died by euthanasia, and the person who died by euthanasia after a botched sex change operation.
All of these euthanasia deaths were done for the reason of psychological suffering, a term which cannot be defined and is being done to an ever- expanding group of people. Usually these people are not terminally ill nor physically suffering. They are being abandoned by a system that would rather kill them than provide them with excellent medical care and social support.
I went on to state that legalizing euthanasia is not safe and that the supposed “safeguards” are often ignored and do not work.
I also stated that people who do not want euthanasia are not protected by the law, but rather the law protects the doctors who euthanize their patients. There has never been an attempted prosecution for killing a person outside of the parameters of the Belgian euthanasia law.
We then went to the question and answer session.
Bernheim and Vermeersch insisted that the practise of euthanasia has improved since 2002, when euthanasia was legalized in Belgium, and they also insisted that similar problems exist in nations where euthanasia is not legal.
Vermeersch, blamed the Walloons, the French region of Belgium, for the problems with the euthanasia law, even though all of the studies that I referred to were from the Flanders Region of Belgium.
Vermeersch also suggested that there were not enough euthanasia deaths occurring because Catholic hospitals frowned on euthanasia. I stated that, sadly, his comment was not correct since a 2011 Belgian study found that only 5% of the requests for euthanasia in Belgium are refused.
Finally Vermeersch explained that the euthanasia law was specifically designed to allow people with disabilities or chronic conditions to die by euthanasia. When Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick, the director of EPC Europe and a leader of Not Dead Yet UK, asked him to clarify his statement, he said Just wait until you are paralysed.
As the questions from the audience became more intense, Bernheim then stated There are problems with the Belgian euthanasia law.
He then stated that there is a study that may be published soon where the data shows other problems with the practise of euthanasia in Belgium.
Then Bernheim, once again, insisted that these same problems occur in nations where euthanasia is prohibited.
I stated that there are problems in Canada, but doctors do not have access to Barbiturates to kill their patients, meaning that we are not comparing apples to apples.
I also stated that in Canada, if a complaint were filed about a doctor who intentionally kills a patient, the doctor could be prosecuted with homicide, which is a very serious crime. In Belgium where many euthanasia deaths are done outside of the law, there has never been an attempted prosecution.
Carine Brochier thanked Bernheim for admitting that the Belgian euthanasia law is abused. She pointed out that the recent 10-year report on the practise of euthanasia and a recent book on the Belgian euthanasia law has received significant attention outside of Belgium but no attention in Belgium.
Bernheim and the euthanasia lobby steadfastly ignore that euthanasia is the direct and intentional killing of a person. Abuses of the euthanasia law amount to intentional killings, acts that are defined as homicide or manslaughter in nearly every jurisdiction in the world.
It is nice that Bernheim admitted that there are problems with the practise of euthanasia in Belgium but that is cold comfort to people who are dead.
Laws that prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide are designed to protect people.