A number of Catholic hospitals are obliging patients who request euthanasia to go through a process of palliative care first, De Morgen reports.
The so-called “palliative filter” is a concept that was first discussed at the time of the passage of Belgium’s euthanasia law in 2002, but ultimately rejected.
Then it was supported by Catholic bishops among others as a means of hollowing out the right to euthanasia enshrined in the law.
In practice, a terminally-ill patient who is admitted to a Catholic hospital and requests euthanasia – or in some cases who has already requested it and made the arrangements – will run up against the hospital’s insistence on first undergoing a process of palliative care.
Since palliative care, almost by definition, only ends when the patient dies, that is often what happens, with the patient ultimately being deprived of their chosen end-of-life arrangements.
The basic principle behind the palliative filter is the belief that a request for euthanasia is not the expression of a desire for one’s life to be brought actively to an end, but rather an expression of a need for help in making the end of life tolerable.
The paper mentions three hospitals by name which their investigation showed practice the use of the palliative filter: Gasthuiszusters Antwerpen, AZ Niklaas in Sint-Niklaas and AZ Sint-Lucas in Ghent.
The hospitals are basing their policy on a clause in the euthanasia law which calls for patients requesting euthanasia to be fully informed about palliative care as an alternative. But the hospitals in question are obliging patients to undergo palliative care, and not simply inform themselves.
According to some experts, that is against the law, and a breach of patients’ rights. For Luc Deliens, chair of the research group Care at the End of Life at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and the university of Leuven, the law is clear: “It says literally that a patient has the right to decline any treatment,” he told De Tijd.
The article in De Morgen received a reply from Gwendolyn Rutten, president of Open VLD. In a tweet, she wrote, “The obligatory palliative filter is inhumane and hollows out the law. Requesting euthanasia is a right. It cannot be allowed for powerful Catholic hospitals to hollow out the law, discourage people and go against their wishes. A law of the people stands above the will of the bishops.”