An increasing number of foreigners request euthanasia in Belgium
Some 150 foreigners have received euthanasia in Belgium over the past six years. Most patients came from France and were over 50 years old. Most of them suffered from a progressive neurological disease such as MS or ALS or were in the terminal phase of cancer.
However, the fact that 150 foreign patients receive euthanasia seems small compared to the 2 500 domestic cases per year. Yet the number may be higher than thought because the patient's residence is confidential in the official forms. This information is not available to the euthanasia commission, which keeps the figures. If doctors mention the country of origin on other papers, they count as foreigners. In 2016-2017, the commission registered 23, in 2018-2019, 45 and in 2020-2021 79.
"The phenomenon is becoming more common because people are finding their way faster through the internet," says Wim Distelmans, professor of palliative medicine (VUB) and member of the Euthanasia Commission, a staunch advocate of the right to a dignified end-to-life. "Foreigners are more likely to realise that you don't have to be Belgian to qualify", he told Het Nieuwsblad.
Most patients come from France, where palliative care is poorly regulated, Distelmans says. However, other foreigners are also increasingly finding Belgium. Recently, Distelmans met an ALS patient from Poland. Sometimes patients come from Great Britain. "The problem there is that the law also punishes assisted suicide. You can get up to 14 years in prison for it. So family members often don't dare to come along."
Nevertheless, not just anyone can apply for euthanasia in Belgium. Although euthanasia for psychiatric suffering is possible in Belgium, it does not apply to foreigners. "The consensus is that we only do that for foreigners with physical problems," stresses Distelmans.
Belgium ratified the euthanasia law in 2002, becoming the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to legalise euthanasia under certain conditions. The 'euthanasia law' covers 'the deliberate termination of life by someone other than the person concerned, at that person's request'.
Specifically, the law states that a patient can request euthanasia when they suffer from persistent unbearable physical or psychological suffering due to a severe and incurable illness caused by an accident or disease. The request for euthanasia must be voluntary, deliberate and repeated. A doctor must not agree to the request but must inform the patient.
Since the law's introduction, Belgium has recorded around 2,500 cases of euthanasia every year.
© AGE FOTOSTOCK