Psychiatrists refusing euthanasia derided as inhumane

Psychiatrists who go against the liberal interpretation of Belgium’s euthanasia laws are being derided as inhumane and lacking empathy for those facing unbearable suffering.

Dr Willem Lemmens, who is a bioethicist, spoke out last weekend after a symposium which looked at the ethics surrounding suicide and euthanasia, psychiatry and mental health care.

“In just a few years, requests for euthanasia in psychiatry [have] became more and more ‘acceptable’ and common in Belgium,” he said after the Oxford-based symposium.

He says euthanasia requests are made despite the fact that even pro-euthanasia doctors say “the law was intended for somatic terminal diseases, not mental suffering caused by psychiatric diseases.”

“So, the moral climate has changed drastically, in the sense that euthanasia is called by some a ‘fundamental right’ and death a ‘therapeutic solution.’”

Pro-life advocates should raise their voices “in a dignified manner and listen to the critical testimonies and voices in Belgium and the Netherlands,” he suggests.

Lemmens says legalised euthanasia is affecting the field of psychiatry. Psychiatrists are often put under pressure to ‘grant’ euthanasia, sometimes even by the family of a patient.

“Some psychiatrists – clearly a minority – think they should at all costs respect the autonomy of the patient.”

He says they are prepared to do this, “even though they acknowledge the subjective dimension of a euthanasia request for mental suffering only and also the difficulty to determine that there are no treatment options left.

“All this has created a sphere of mutual distrust among psychiatrists, also because worrisome cases were revealed in the press about which some want to keep silent.”

Lemmens says “worrisome cases” include testimonies by families who say loved ones suffering from mental disorders “have been given euthanasia without their consent or against the advice of certain physicians.”


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