BELGIUM – The Federal Control and Evaluation Committee, assigned by law to carry out after-the-event reviews into cases of euthanasia has acted for the first time in its 13 year history. In a unanimous decision of its 16 members, the Committee has referred the euthanasia of a healthy 85-year old to the public prosecutor who must now decide whether to bring criminal charges. The doctor in question, Dr Marc Van Hoey, is chairman of one of Belgium’s main euthanasia advocacy groups and conducts regular speaking engagements on the subject.
Robert Clarke, Legal Counsel for ADF International commented, “Prior to this case, there has been over 8,000 reported cases over a long period and not a single one had been referred on as suspicious, was an embarrassment to the Committee. The fact that such a referral has been made now, after 13 years, is to be cautiously welcomed. It is welcomed as a recognition that the law is broken, that vulnerable people are not being safeguarded and that doctors can and have exceeded what is permitted even in Belgium.”
The case referred raised some searching questions
The case referred raised some searching questions after being featured in an Australian documentary broadcast by SBS entitled “Allow me to Die” in September this year. The show follows Simona de Moor as she attends a number of consultations and bids goodbye to friends, some of whom appear confused by what she is doing. She decides not to get into contact with a daughter with whom she hasn’t spoken for some time, a fact which echoes another case filed by ADF International at the European Court of Human Rights and currently pending with the public prosecutor.
Recalling his experience in Belgium, the producer closes the documentary saying that “Questions have been repeatedly asked about how [these] laws are safeguarded. For me Simona’s death illustrates some of these concerns. Mostly, it just feels sad to say goodbye to someone who is healthy and sharp of mind and yet still believes her best treatment is death.”
Clarke continued, “It is a cautionary tale to the other countries considering following Belgium’s path that safeguards cannot work. Whatever the prosecutor decides, he cannot reverse the events of 22 June 2015. Caution is needed to follow what exactly comes of this referral and to see whether it is more than just a tokenistic attempt to ward off growing international criticism of the Committee and the system it serves.”
Despite their common interest, Marc Van Hoey has been critical of the co-chair of the Federal Committee, Dr Distelman, writing in 2013 that “[Distemans] wants to be the Pope of euthanasia in Belgium, and that’s not a good thing.” This referral will add yet more pressure to the Committee after revelations that it is struggling to recruit sufficient doctors to fill seven vacancies out of the total of 32 (16 regular, 16 reserve) members of the Committee. It is thought that the requirement for ethical diversity must be particularly problematic given it is unlikely someone critical of euthanasia would sit on a Committee with such an uncritical approach to its mandate. The increased workload may also be to blame with one doctor who recently resigned explaining “They told me that there were only a few dozen dossiers a month to process. In fact, today there is an average of 200 cases.”