Saturday, April 12, 2014

Death on the doctors' say-so

Voluntary euthanasia became legal in Belgium in 2002. I have previously pointed out that 32 per cent of assisted deaths there are carried out without request by the patient, and an estimated 57 per cent of all assisted deaths are not being reported. Belgium recently allowed euthanasia for sick children.

Now an official statement by the Belgian Society of Critical Care Medicine considers it acceptable to use drugs to shorten the lives of patients in palliative care, whether or not they are suffering and whether or not they have made a request to die. The statement is published in the Journal of Critical Care.

It refers to "the administration of sedative agents with the direct intention of shortening the process of terminal palliative care in patients with no prospect of a meaningful recovery." Shortening the dying process by administering sedatives beyond what is needed for patient comfort, it says, can be not only acceptable but in many cases desirable.

"Shortening the dying process with use of medication. . . may sometimes be appropriate, even in the absence of discomfort, and can actually improve the quality of dying." The statement also applies to children.

Involuntary euthanasia is against the law. Intensive care doctors appear to be putting themselves above the law. Commentators are waiting to see how the government reacts.

That's what happens when euthanasia is legalised for "a few hard cases."

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