Belgium one step closer to allowing euthanasia in cases of dementia

Belgium one step closer to allowing euthanasia in cases of dementia
Credit: Max Pixel

The Belgian Christian Democratic party CD&V party is set to have a debate on allowing euthanasia for people with dementia. The move comes as a response to a proposal on the issue led by the Flemish liberals, De Morgen reported.

Belgium was one of the first countries to legalise euthanasia in 2002. The law now allows euthanasia if a person is fully aware and able to request it. But for dementia patients, the longer they have the disease, their window of time lessens.

Noëlle Dendas, a patient with Alzheimer’s, told De Morgen in September 2021 why she chose euthanasia early. “Either you have to die too early, or you are too late and you can’t die anymore,” she said.

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There is support in the De Croo government for extending the right to euthanasia. Yet during government talks, the CD&V, as the most conservative party in the coalition, demanded the right to veto in ethical cases. Unanimity is needed to adjust the law in incidents of abortion or euthanasia, but little has changed since. Despite this, Flemish liberals are hoping to move things forward.

Stalled political talks

“On May 28, the euthanasia law turns twenty. It is high time to eliminate the shortcomings in the law”, said Flemish liberals from Open VlD Robby De Caluwé, Katja Gabriëls and Jean-Jacques De Gucht. They argue that patients should be allowed to sign a directive in advance to request euthanasia in case they become mentally incapacitated.

CD&V chairperson Joachim Coens said that his party is open to resuming talks. CD&V Els Van Hoof added: “You feel more and more that this debate needs to be had. We are ready for that.” The party thinks that the government needs to appoint a scientific committee to advise on how to improve legislation.

“Not to stop the discussion, but to add nuance. Because it is more than just adding a sentence,” said Van Hoof. “These recommendations could be on the table within a year.”

Yet advocates of extending the law aren’t impressed. “It seems to me to be a delaying manoeuvre rather than anything else,” said Professor Wim Distelmans of Vrije Universiteit in Brussels.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are the only countries where euthanasia is legal in Europe. The latter two even allow it for minors in very specific cases. Spain allows certain forms of euthanasia, but in very strict circumstances.


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