The federal parliament yesterday approved a measure proposed by Ecolo-Groen which makes it easier to make an advance directive of euthanasia.
At present, a person can sign an advance directive or living will to declare the wish to undergo euthanasia at a later date, when they may no longer be in a position to demand euthanasia – for example because they are in an advanced state of dementia, or are unconscious because of an illness or treatment for an illness.
However such an advance directive needs to be renewed every five years at the moment to remain valid. In 2019, 7,156 people had to renew their advance directive under the old law.
Under the new proposal, once such a directive is signed, it remains valid in perpetuity, unless the person who signed it cancels it. It will no longer become invalid simply by the passage of time.
Under amendments brought to the text by Open VLD and PS, the new conditions apply to existing advance directives if the person makes a one-off request for an unlimited duration. If not, any directive signed before 1 January 2020 remains subject to renewal every five years.
Turning to requests for euthanasia in the immediate future, another amendment brought by PS to the existing law imposes a limit of seven days for a physician to agree or not to a patient’s request.
If the doctor should decline to carry out the procedure, they must within that delay direct the patient to a medical centre or association which can carry out the request, providing the other conditions laid down by the law are being met.
That amendment was inspired by the situation in which some Catholic medical institutions were forcing patients who had requested euthanasia to undergo a course of palliative care, which in some cases lasted so long that the patient died of their original condition without their desire for euthanasia ever being met.
The changes to the law were approved by the plenary session of the parliament, with abstentions from CD&V, Vlaams Belang and energy minister Marie-Christine Marghem (MR). Two members of N-VA voted against.
Amendments proposed by cdH and CD&V which would have allowed a patient to apply their own time limit on an advance directive were voted down.