In Belgium we have nearly 15 years of experience in euthanasia and so – very unfortunately - we are now a kind of "world authority" on this terrible matter.
I would like to bring 3 points to the reader's attention.
First, the implications of the law on the patients, the doctors and the whole society in Belgium.
Second, "the dream" versus the "reality"
Third, the "We will do better syndrome".
Let's begin with my first point : the implications of the law.
- On the patients : You have in another article my written testimony about my friend Louis. Without the euthanasia law, I am pretty confident that Louis would still be alive today. Knowing his case very well, I spoke about him with several doctors, and all of them - with no exception - told me that he should have been given the chance to live. But Louis had no family left, and was a psychiatric patient, and his doctor was so impregnated with the euthanasia mentality that he decided that Louis should no longer live... How many Louis are there, every year for that doctor, for that clinic, for our city of Ghent, and for all Belgium? The law has made that possible. Please give meaning to his death and try to protect all the weak and innocent Louis of New Zealand!
- The implications of the law on the doctors is obvious in the case of Louis. The red line of "you shall not kill the innocent" has vanished, and speaking on a regular basis with doctors about that topic, I notice that most of them just consider euthanasia a medical option like any other. What was to be an exception, has begun to be a kind of "business as usual", at least in their minds.
- The implication of the law on the society:
o After my experience with Louis' death, for several months I had no confidence at all in the doctors, who were supposed to care for him, not kill him. That was a really terrible feeling.
o A second aspect is the very personal impact of euthanasia. We say that the consequences of a suicide take 2 generations to disappear. I can tell you because I experienced it, that the impact of a euthanasia is just as terrible, and on the other side, that even when the situation is difficult, a natural death is much easier to experience, and I'd like to speak about my father who passed away last year.
He had a neuro-degenerative disease known as Mesulam disease. First he couldn't speak any more, then he gradually lost all his capacities and at the end, a machine moved him from his bed to his wheelchair and from his wheelchair to his bed. We couldn't communicate at all with him. But... he was the center of the family and when we went to visit him and my mother, our daughters Elisabeth (11yo) and Claire (9yo) spent a lot of time just holding his hand, and being with him. Had he made clear his desire for euthanasia before his illness, a doctor would have performed it, and for the whole family and especially for our children, that would have been a total disaster. It would have been even worse for him who would have missed out, on the deep love of his grandchildren at the end of his life...
My second point is : "the dream" versus "the reality".
15 years of euthanasia has showed us that we are now miles away from what was to be "a strict and very well controlled law". That was the dream. But it was like boring a hole in a dam. Don't even think that you'll be able to keep that hole under control. This is the reality: more, and always more water, will flow through what was, in the beginning a very well controlled small hole. Today euthanasia is allowed for children. They are forbidden to buy cigarettes or alcohol, but they can apply for euthanasia...
My third point is the "We will do better syndrome".
Other countries sometimes think, "We will do better than Belgium and have better safeguards". It's very dangerous to think like this, because the problem does not lie in the conditions and the quality of the safeguards of the law, but in the law itself. The law is self-fueling. Our experience is that it is a total illusion to think that even the best Control Commission can control it. As I said, legal euthanasia is like a hole in a dam. The hole only gets bigger and bigger...