The prosecutor’s office for East Flanders has opened an investigation into Coöperatie Laatste Wil, a Dutch organisation which is calling for people to be given more choice in end-of-life decisions, including finding a legal, safe and humane means of committing suicide.
The organisation is planning two meetings in Belgium – where it has some 700 members – in June for members of the public who wish to have the option of an independent and autonomous end to their lives by suicide.
Both Belgium and the Netherlands have legalised euthanasia, but the conditions are strict; essentially a person requesting euthanasia must be suffering intolerable torment because of an incurable condition. That has in the past been taken to include psychological suffering, but the supporters of Coöperatie Laatste Wil reject conditions of any sort, and call for a person’s right to choose the moment when their life ends.
In addition, the organisation is working towards finding a method of committing suicide which is reliable and painless – two things which the most common methods rarely bring together.
The East Flanders prosecutor has opened an inquiry into what that method might be, in the hope of having an answer by the time the first meeting is due to take place in Ghent on 24 June. The Dutch legal system started a criminal investigation into the organisation last year.
“We are worried that they will draw people into a suicidal process,” said Gwendolyn Portzky, director of the Flemish Expertise Centre for the Prevention of Suicide. And Professor Wim Distelmans, oncologist and chair of the federal supervisory panel on euthanasia, said he had some sympathy for the organisation’s cause, but described the idea as “unattainable” in practice. “How are you ever going to make sure than this [method] doesn’t fall into the wrong hands?”
Belgium has a suicide rate of about 19 persons in 100,000 inhabitants, well above the EU average of 12. Wallonia consistently scores higher that Flanders, with Brussels showing the lowest rate. And men are more likely to commit suicide than women.
The Brussels Times
If you have questions or concerns regarding the subject of suicide, contact the Suicide Prevention Centre in French on 0800 32 123 (free) or online; or the Flemish counterpart on telephone number 1813 or online. English-only speakers can contact the Community Help Service help-line on 02 648 40 14.