Euthanasia deaths rise by 10% in Belgium

Almost 3,000 people requested euthanasia in 2022. Most were over 70 and had terminal cancer, but 17% “were not expected to die in the foreseeable future”, says official report.

Evangelical Focus

FPS Public Health , · BRUSSELS · 17 MARCH 2023 · 12:39 CET

Brussels, Belgium  / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Danial Kalbasi</a>, Unsplash CC0.,
Brussels, Belgium / Photo: Danial Kalbasi, Unsplash CC0.

The Belgian Federal Control and Evaluation Commission on Euthanasia reported that almost 3,000 people (2,966) died by euthanasia in 2022.

“The number increased by 9.85% compared to 2021. The proportion of declared deaths due to euthanasia reported in 2022 was 2.5% (compared to 2.4% in 2021) of all deaths in our country”, government officials said.

The country already had record high euthanasia deaths in 2021.

Oncologist and palliative care expert Wim Distelmans, told Belgian news website VRT that “there is an increase in registered euthanasia cases because, we suspect, there is more awareness of the euthanasia law among the population”.


Age, place and language

The majority of the euthanasia patients (69.9%) were over 70, with 42.2% older than 80. Only 1,2% of those requesting euthanasia were under 40, while the largest group were patients aged between 80 and 89 years (29.2%).

No cases concerning euthanasia in a minor patient was recorded.

Furthermore, more Dutch-speaking than French-speaking patients have opted for euthanasia (70.4% vs 29.6%), but the “increase in French-language documents is higher”.

Data also show that the number of euthanasias performed at home decreased slightly in 2022 (50.5%), while those in residential care centres continued to increase (16.4%).

Euthanasias carried out in hospitals and palliative units remained stable (31.8%).


Term and reason of death

The Commission informed that 513 cases (17.3%) of euthanasia of people whose deaths were not expected in the foreseeable future” were reported in 2022.

Most of them (239) were due to for polypathology, followed by cognitive disorders (41), psychiatric disorders (24), and a range of physical non-terminal conditions, including arthritis, eye and ear disorders, chromosomal and congenital abnormalities. among others.

The majority of the terminal patients who requested euthanasia had cancers (59.9%) of the digestive system, respiratory system, breast and sexual organs.

After oncological conditions, polypathology was the main reason for euthanasia with 582 patients (19.6% of the total number of euthanasias), followed by nervous system (8, 9%) and circulatory system (3.7%) diseases.

“Requests for euthanasia based on psychiatric conditions such as mood disorders (0.9%) and Alzheimer's and other dementias (1.4 %) remained exceptional”, pointed out the Commission.

Moreover, 19 people died by euthanasia in 2022 while unable to give consent, following a prior instruction.


Foreign patients

“The Belgian euthanasia law does not require anyone to be Belgian. More and more foreigners have understood this and are coming to Belgium via the internet”, explained the Commission.

In 2022 the number rose, with 61 patients residing abroad who went to Belgium for euthanasia. They were mainly from France (53), but also from Australia, Denmark, Hungary, Kenya, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Ukraine.

According to government report, “these were patients with a somatic condition such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Charcot disease, lung cancer or polypathology with cancer and stroke after-effects”.

The age of these foreign patients was mainly between 50 and 79 years.

Euthanasia in Europe

Belgium was a pioneer in implementing euthanasia policies in Europe. Other countries who have passed similar assisted dying laws recently are Austria and Spain.

Portugal is going through a heated debate about the issue involving the parliament and the country's President. Italy also saw the Supreme Court intervene. 

France is also finding it hard to have a consensus about how to reform the euthanasia law.

Evangelical Focus asked Christian bioethics expert Professor John Wyatt about the causes behind the increase of demand for euthanasia.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - europe - Euthanasia deaths rise by 10% in Belgium

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