Belgium uptick seen after euthanasia law

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WASHINGTON — Cases of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Flanders region of Belgium have nearly doubled in a decade, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A team of five researchers in Belgium reported that physician-assisted deaths in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region rose to 1.9 percent of all deaths in 2007 from 1.1 percent in 1998.

"We found that the enactment of the Belgian euthanasia law [in 2002] was followed by an increase in all types of medical end-of-life practices, with the exception of the use of lethal drugs without the patient's explicit request," the researchers wrote in the medical journal Sept. 17.

The doctors also noted that among "vulnerable patient groups ... the substantial increase in the frequency of deep sedation demands more in-depth research."

About 60 percent of Belgium's 10 million people live in the Flanders region of Belgium.

Alistair Thompson, a spokesman for the British anti-euthanasia organization Care Not Killing, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "We are facing a concerted effort across Europe to have euthanasia legalized...."

But he noted that "in the UK what we tend to see is a drop in support for euthanasia as more and more people understand the morals, the religious and medical and legal arguments against having state-backed euthanasia."

John Bilsen, one of the researchers in Belgium, observed that euthanasia figures rose to 3 percent or more of all deaths in The Netherlands after that country legalized the practice in 2001 but have since dropped to 1.7 percent.

Belgium and Luxembourg also permit euthanasia. Switzerland allows physician-assisted suicide, which involves a doctor prescribing lethal drugs for a patient to use in taking his own life. In assisted suicide, the physician may not administer the drugs.

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