An increasing number of terminally ill patients are coming to Belgium to avail themselves of the possibility of euthanasia here, according to a report by the RTBF. The number is likely to be exacerbated by the publicity surrounding the case of Vincent Lambert, whose end-of-life wish to have his treatment ended was overturned by a French court.
The RTBF spoke to Dr. Yves de Locht, a doctor in Ixelles in Brussels who has been practising euthanasia in line with the Belgian law for ten years. Every day, he said, he receives a request for euthanasia, often in the form of an end-of-life declaration, in which a person expresses the wish in advance of becoming terminal. The demand has taken its toll on the doctor.
“There are so many requests that when I see the French prefix on my screen I refuse to answer,” he said. “I can’t take it any more. I’m 73, it’s not possible any longer.”
In France on Tuesday, doctors at the university hospital in Reims resumed the treatment of Vincent Lambert, a man who has been in a persistent vegetative state since a road accident ten years ago, and who was being maintained on a regime of feeding and hydration. Acting on his previously expressed wishes, members of the family applied to have his treatment stopped and have him placed on a regime of deep sedation to allow him to die peacefully.
Doctors agreed, and Lambert’s parents opposed the move, finding support from the court of appeal in Paris on Monday, which ordered the resumption of feeding.
French law, unlike Belgian, does not allow the active ending of life by a doctor, but does allow the stopping of treatment if it is considered out of proportion to the benefits gained. The patient then moves into palliative care until death ensues – which may take some time.
Dr. de Locht described the process as “euthanasia postponed” since it does inevitably end in death, though not immediately. “I have French patients who wanted to die, but they were told no because they were not yet at the end of their lives.”
The situation can even attain the heights of the absurd, he said.
“I have heard of a patient who requested euthanasia or deep sedation in a French hospital. The doctors refused because her situation was not grave enough. The patient then asked to be euthanised in Belgium or Switzerland, and the French hospital did everything it could to get her fit enough to go and be euthanised abroad. That sort of ghastly situation is proof that another law is needed.”