Psychological suffering is one of the grounds in Belgian euthanasia law on which a person can request a medical doctor to end her life voluntarily. On an annual basis, there are 2,000 recorded cases in Belgium. Among those are approximately 40 to 60 patients who are afflicted with “incurable psychological suffering” but without being terminally ill.
Just recently, a broad range of experts in the field of psychology spoke up against this practice. Sixty-five psychologists, psychiatrists, and university professors from universities all over the country published an open letter in the Belgian Daily De Morgen calling for an end to euthanasia for psychological reasons. For them, no such thing as “incurable” psychological suffering exists. Ariane Bazan, clinical psychologist at the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and one of the initiators of the open letter, insisted that persons requesting euthanasia for unbearable psychological suffering regularly change their mind because new hope appears in their life. “Many things are possible and many things can change. We must not forget that the feeling of hopelessness is typical for a person who experiences a phase of depression,” she added.
Among the authors of the open letter is Willem Lemmens, ethicist, and Gertrudis Van de Vijver, director of the Center for Critical Philosophy at the University of Gent.
Wim Diestelmans, professor for palliative medicine at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and the leading voice of euthanasia supporters in Belgium, criticised the letter, reasoning that the mere possibility to choose euthanasia could bring about new hope in life. But the signatories, many of whom are not opposing euthanasia in principle, say it could not be considered a therapy for psychological suffering: “This would mean the radical failure of an entire mental health sector.”
Several cases of patients who were granted euthanasia because of depression or because they were tired of life have recently been referred to in the public debate. Tom Mortier’s mother was euthanised by Wim Diestelmans without him being consulted or even informed. She suffered from depression and from the recent break-up of a relationship. ADF International has filed his case with the European Court of Human Rights.
Another case is Simone, who was euthanised because the grief about her daughter, who passed away three months earlier, seemed unbearable to her. She was 85 years old and in good health. Her case is the first one in 13 years filed by the Belgian Euthanasia Control Commission for judicial review. Dr. Marc Van Hoey, who performed her euthanasia, could possibly face criminal charges.
Because cases like these seem to be on the rise and Belgium’s euthanasia practice becomes ever more permissive, the 65 signatories call for a reform of the existing law and for a removal of psychological suffering as a ground for euthanasia.