By Steve Doughty, Social Affairs Correspondent
11 June 2015
Report says thousands have been killed despite not asking their doctor
- Thousands killed under GP care despite not asking to die, report says
- One in 60 deaths involves someone ‘who has not requested euthanasia’
- Half of patients killed without giving their consent were over the age of 80
Thousands of elderly people have been killed by their own GPs without ever asking to die under Belgium’s euthanasia laws, an academic report said yesterday.It said that around one in every 60 deaths of a patient under GP care involves someone who has not requested euthanasia.
Half of the patients killed without giving their consent were over the age of 80, the study found, and two thirds of them were in hospital and were not suffering from a terminal disease such as cancer.
In about four out of five of the cases, the death was not discussed with patients subjected to ‘involuntary euthanasia’ because they were either in a coma, they were diagnosed with dementia, or because doctors decided it would not be in their best interests to discuss the matter with them.
Very often doctors would not inform the families of plans to lethally inject a relation because they considered it a medical decision to be made by themselves alone, the report published by the Journal of Medical Ethics said.
The report raised new questions over Belgium’s increasingly controversial 13-year-old euthanasia law, which has won wide acceptance from the medical establishment, and which now allows even children to be killed by doctors.
Report author Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor of Hull University said: ‘The decision as to which life is no longer worth living is not in the hands of the patient but in the hands of the doctor.’
‘It should also be noted that deliberately ending the lives of patients without their request is taking place in Belgium more than in all other countries that document such practices, including the Netherlands.
‘It is worrying that some physicians take upon themselves the responsibility to deliberately shorten patients’ lives without a clear indication from the patients that this is what they would want.’
The Israeli-born politics and philosophy professor added: ‘The Belgian population should be aware of the present situation and know that if their lives may come to the point where physicians think they are not worth living, in the absence of specific living wills advising physicians what to do then, they might be put to death.’
Belgium’s Euthanasia Act restricts the practice of mercy killing to adults and ’emancipated children’ who are suffering unbearably and who are able to consent. It remains officially illegal for doctors to kill patients who have not given their consent to death.
The study found, however, that many GPs are killing their patients without consent and that lack of consent may be more common than officially-approved deaths.
‘Given that ending patients’ lives without request is more common than euthanasia, it is suggested to urge the Belgian medical profession to put this issue high on its agenda,’ Professor Cohen-Almagor said.
Half of the patients killed without giving their consent were over the age of 80, the study found
The study was published after Rob Marris, Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, announced that in September he will introduce a Private Member’s Bill into the House of Commons to legalise assisted suicide.
There have been a series of attempts in the courts and in Parliament to overthrow the assisted suicide laws which in Britain mean anyone who helps someone else to die faces a maximum 14 years in jail.
Former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, now a Labour MP, brought in prosecutions rules which mean no-one is likely to be charged with assisting a suicide unless they acted out of greed or malice, and Tony Blair’s former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer introduced an assisted suicide bill into the Lords. This would have allowed two doctors to kill a terminally ill patient who asked to die.
Supreme Court judges have held back from legalising assisted suicide but their rulings have piled pressure on Parliament to consider a new law.
The situation in Belgium is a stark warning that in this country we should not go down the road of legalising assisted suicide
— Fiona Bruce, Tory MP for Congleton
Opponents of assisted suicide said that the Belgian use of euthanasia showed that an assisted suicide law would be a slippery slope towards medical killing.
Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Liberal Democrat peer who sat on the parliamentary committee that advised against the legalisation of euthanasia in the UK a decade ago, said: ‘I am horrified by it.
‘What it demonstrates, if the facts underlying it are correct, is that in Belgium, and elsewhere, so-called euthanasia is being carried out without controls and it underlines why I am opposed to the Bill which Rob Marris is going to put to the House of Commons,’ he said.
‘The safeguards which are being provided under his Bill are completely inadequate.’
Fiona Bruce, Tory MP for Congleton and the chairman of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said: ‘The situation in Belgium is a stark warning that in this country we should not go down the road of legalising assisted suicide.
‘Where does that road end? Whatever safeguards those proposing this suggest can never be enough to protect our frail, elderly, vulnerable or disabled from the risk of feeling an unwanted burden or, worse still, from abuse.
‘Doctors enter the medical profession to be protectors not destroyers of life. This Bill could utterly change the doctor-patient relationship, with vulnerable patients living in fear of a lethal injection from their doctor.’