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“Respect for the patient’s autonomy is the key word”

LCanon Pierre de Locht, while accepting, in 2014, to become a member of the honorary committee of the Association for the right to die with dignity in Belgium, invited us to be cautious: “Do not go from massive, blind and deaf prohibition to the request for autonomy, to the suppression of all norms. » I pretend to think that we have succeeded in respecting this balance by the adoption, in 2002, of these three fundamental laws in medical law: the one which affirms the rights of the patient, the one which proposes universal access to palliative care and the one that decriminalizes euthanasia. Respect for the patient’s autonomy is the key word here. Not a disembodied autonomy but well fueled by the information provided by health professionals.

The law of May 28, 2002 relating to euthanasia defines it: “The act of intentionally ending a person’s life at their request. » This act must be carried out by a doctor. Why this choice of medical euthanasia? The singular colloquium that is established between the patient and the doctor makes it possible to examine all possible avenues, other than euthanasia, in terms of therapeutic treatments or palliative care. It is only at the end of the road that the doctor and the patient, convinced that it is about the only reasonable option, will take the decision of euthanasia and will fix the modalities (when? how? what will be the loved ones who will be present?). The doctor will bring his technical skills to offer his patient a peaceful death, most often at his home, surrounded by those chosen to accompany him until his last breath.

Admittedly, we are witnessing a paradigm shift. For medical treatments, including palliative care, the doctor obtains the informed consent of the patient, who has the right to refuse them without having to justify himself. On the other hand, for euthanasia, it is up to the patient to ask the doctor who consents to it… or not. No one can be forced to request euthanasia, no one can be forced to perform the act.

Unrelenting suffering

“Anyone in Belgium who asks to die, if he asks three times, can access euthanasia”, said Agnès Buzyn, Minister of Health, in 2018. What a lie! Admittedly, the request must be voluntary, repeated, without external pressure, a sine qua non condition for euthanasia, but not sufficient. The patient must also be suffering from a serious and incurable condition, pathological or accidental, which causes him intractable physical or psychological suffering.

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