Terminally ill patients in Belgium are being subjected to euthanasia without their consent, according to a shocking study.
The findings are likely to inflame concern that any move to legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia in the UK would leave vulnerable people dangerously exposed.
The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), suggests that almost half of Belgium’s euthanasia deaths may be carried out on patients who have not asked for their lives to be ended.
It revealed that 248 nurses, representing almost a fifth of the nurses interviewed, had cared for euthanasia patients.
And nearly 50 per cent of these, some 120 nurses, had been involved in killing patients without their “explicit request”.
Dr Peter Saunders, Director of the pro-life group Care Not Killing, cautioned: “We should take a warning from this that wherever you draw the line, people will go up to it and beyond it.”
He added: “Once you have legalised voluntary euthanasia, involuntary euthanasia will inevitably follow”.
Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002, but the law requires patients to give their consent and states that the death must be facilitated by a doctor.
The report, entitled The Role of Nurses in Physician Assisted Deaths in Belgium, supports Dr Saunders’ warning.
The report states: “By administering the life-ending drugs in some of the cases of euthanasia, and in almost half of the cases without an explicit request from the patient, the nurses in our study operated beyond the legal margins of their profession.”
Press reports indicate that euthanasia now accounts for two per cent of Belgium’s deaths, the equivalent of around 2,000 people a year.
Last month a bio-ethicist warned that allowing organs to be harvested from euthanasia victims was setting a dangerous precedent.
Wesley Smith’s comments followed an article in the bioethics journal Transplantation about the euthanasia of a completely paralysed Belgian woman.
The woman, who was killed by intravenous injection, was taken to have her organs removed just ten minutes after her heart activity stopped.
Mr Smith, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute in Washington, said: “If this doesn’t set off alarm bells about how the sick and disabled are increasingly being looked upon not only as burdens (to themselves, families, and society), but potential objects for exploitation, what will?
“A disabled woman was killed, even though people with locked-in states often adjust over time to their disabilities and are happy to be alive.”
He added: “This case of two separate requests, first euthanasia and second, organ donation after death, demonstrates that organ harvesting after euthanasia may be considered and accepted from ethical, legal and practical viewpoints in countries where euthanasia is legally accepted”.