Judges in Belgium have fined a Roman Catholic care home for refusing to euthanise a 74-year-old woman.
The rest home in Diest was ordered to pay €6,000 after it prevented doctors from giving Mariette Buntjens, a lung cancer sufferer, a lethal injection.
She died “in peaceful surroundings” at her home a few days later.
Labour MP Robert Flello described the judgment as “worrying” and said there is a “risk that care homes will now close across Belgium”.
A panel of three judges ruled unanimously that “the nursing home had no right to refuse euthanasia on the basis of conscientious objection”.
They interpreted Belgium’s euthanasia law, enacted in 2002, to mean that only individual medical professionals can refuse requests, not hospitals or care homes.
The case arose after Mrs Buntjens’ family sued the care home, claiming it had caused their mother “unnecessary mental and physical suffering”. The home was fined €3,000 and ordered to pay €1,000 of compensation to each of her three adult children.
Learning from other countries
In the UK Baroness Finlay, Professor of Palliative Medicine at Cardiff University and co-founder of pro-life organisation Living and Dying Well, wrote an article published in The Guardian, saying that our country must “learn from the experience of others” and continue to reject euthanasia and assisted suicide.
In September 2015, MPs voted 330 to 118 against Rob Marris’ Private Members’ Bill to legalise the practice here.
In her short article, Baronness Finlay noted that there has been a steady increase in euthanasia or assisted suicide deaths in countries where the practices have been legalised.
If we are wise, we will learn from the experience of others rather than from our own mistakes.
She noted that between 2014 and 2015 in Oregon, assisted suicide deaths rose by a staggering 80 per cent. In the Netherlands, assisted suicide or euthanasia accounted for 1 in every 26 deaths in the country last year – the equivalent of more than 20,000 deaths in the UK.
The Baroness also stressed the difficulty of determining a prognosis for terminal illnesses, on which assisted suicide laws are generally built.
She wrote: “Every doctor has been faced with the question: how long have I got? The answer in many cases is only a best guess. Yet accurate prognosis is an important factor in any decision to end it all. The assisted dying bills presented to parliament in the UK treat prognosis as if it’s a scientific tool. It isn’t.”
Focusing again on the Netherlands, she added that the country has seen “legislative drift”, with increasing numbers of people being euthanised because of psychiatric illness or dementia.
She concluded: “If we are wise, we will learn from the experience of others rather than from our own mistakes.”