Flemish euthanasia rate doubles in six years

17-03-2015

The number of people receiving euthanasia in Flanders, Belgium, more than doubled between 2007 and 2013, from 2% to 4.6% of all deaths. That is the conclusion of a study by the End-of-Life Care Research Group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Ghent University published today, 17 March, in the leading medical journal New England Journal of Medicine.

Euthanasia, the intentional act of ending a person’s life at his or her explicit request, was legalised under strict regulation in Belgium in 2002. The Netherlands and Luxembourg are the only other countries in the world where the practice can be legally performed.

According to the authors (named below) the reasons for the doubling are twofold. On the one hand, an increasing number of people are requesting euthanasia; on the other, physicians are more willing to honour those requests.

More specifically, the study shows that the number of people voicing a euthanasia request increased from 3.5% to 6% of all deaths between 2007 and 2013. Of those requests, three out of four were granted in 2013. In 2007 only half of requests were granted.

The study also shows that euthanasia is still mostly performed in cancer patients, the highly educated and those between the ages of 65 and 79 years. Nonetheless, the increase is general and also evident in those aged 80 years and above and among people with other medical conditions.

‘These new figures demonstrate the ongoing process of societal acceptance of euthanasia in Flanders, Belgium. The practice is increasingly viewed as a valid choice at the end of life’ says Kenneth Chambaere, lead author of the publication.

‘The societal emphasis on values of autonomy and self-determination lie at the core of this,’ he says. ‘But also the experiences of doctors after more than 10 years of regulation have reduced their reluctance and established confidence in the legal procedure. What’s more, within Flemish health care institutions the restrictions with respect to euthanasia are gradually disappearing.’

Luc Deliens, head of the research group, says: ‘Although the Netherlands has a longer history with euthanasia, the Flemish rate is now higher than that of our neighbours for the first time.’

Contact

Kenneth Chambaere – kenneth.chambaere@vub.ac.be

Luc Deliens – luc.deliens@vub.ac.be

Note to editors:

1/ names of authors: Kenneth Chambaere, Robert Vander Stichele, Freddy Mortier, Joachim Cohen, Luc Deliens. Reference: Chambaere K, Vander Stichele R, Mortier F, Cohen J, Deliens L. Recent Trends in Euthanasia and Other End-of-Life Practices in Belgium. N Engl J Med 2015 (epub ahead of print).

2/ the study was based on information gained from physicians who had completed the death certificates in more than 6,000 sampled deaths, about 10% of all Flemish deaths in 2013.

 
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