Experts ask for end to euthanasia based on mental health problems


A group of 65 mental health professionals and professors in Belgium has signed an open letter to end euthanasia based solely on psychological illness


Euthanasia should no longer be carried out on the basis of psychological suffering alone, according to 65 Belgian psychiatrists, psychologists and professors in an op-ed published by De Morgen this week.

On average, 2,000 people a year in Belgium choose to end their lives through euthanasia. Most are terminally ill, but about 3% of them request the procedure because of unbearable psychological suffering. In the past two years, there were about 100 such cases.

The experts said they were “alarmed by the trivialisation” of the option. It cannot be objectively determined whether psychological suffering is incurable, they wrote, and pointed out that feelings of despair are typical of depression.

Wim Distelmans, palliative health-care professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and president of the Federal Euthanasia Commission, emphasised that the option is only available to those who have chronic and serious mental health problems. “It is only for those who have tried different medications, therapies and therapists for many years,” he said, adding that some patients, knowing they can turn to euthanasia if necessary, have found the strength to carry on.

Distelmans has received support from political parties Open-Vld and SP.A. Open-Vld president Gwendolyn Rutten told Radio 1 that the measure is not available to just anyone who suffers from depression. 

Photo courtesy Ingimage