The number of cases of euthanasia rose in 2017 by 13% compared to the year before, according to a report by the federal control and evaluation committee. The majority of the increase was accounted for by patients aged between 60 and 89 years, who were suffering from polypathology – a combination of different illnesses, such as blindness, hearing loss and incontinence, which together make life for the patient unbearable.
“We are seeing more and more people who no longer accept that condition,” said Professor Wim Distelmans, chair of the federal control commission. “In addition, we are getting older and older, so the figures also go up. This is in fact the first generation to be confronted with polypathology.”
In fact, polypathology patients requesting euthanasia have almost doubled in the last four years from 232 tot 444, although cancer remains the primary reason. Men and women are equally represented.
The number of euthanasia patients having the procedure carried out at home is steadily increasing, while hospital numbers remain steady. Another striking figure is how many more Dutch-speakers take advantage of the opportunity compared to French-speakers: three to four times as many, roughly 500 to 1,500 over the last four years.
More recently, the introduction of the right to euthanasia for minors – a development that made worldwide headlines – led to three cases in 2016 and 2017. In all three cases, the patients were suffering from insufferable and incurable conditions which were already in a terminal phase.
Belgium is one of only three countries in Europe where euthanasia is legal; the others are Luxembourg, where the procedure is rare; and the Netherlands, which has seen a similar evolution of cases to Belgium, Distelmans said.