HEALTH

10,600 People In This Country Have Hired A Doctor To Kill Them

In Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal, a growing number of the deceased are younger people dealing with unbearable depression

Jun 29, 2015 at 2:11 PM ET

A healthy 24-year-old woman in Belgium made headlines recently when she announced that she was going to die by assisted suicide, not for because of chronic pain or a terminal ailment but because of her persistent suicidal thoughts. The woman who gave only her first name to the press, Laura, is one of 50 people per year in Belgium who are allowed to get assisted suicides for psychiatric reasons alone.

Belgium made history in 2002 when it legalized assisted suicide for people with unbearable pain, physical or psychological. Proponents of the law say it humanizes people with debilitating conditions by giving them the autonomy to end it all. Opponents of the law argue Belgian doctors often prescribe assisted suicide when the patient is not entirely out of other options.

Since the law went into effect, about 10,600 people have taken their lives in Belgium via assisted suicide, about half of them between the ages of 70 and 90. But of the 1,924 people who were euthanized in 2014, about 2 to 3 percent were people suffering from psychiatric conditions, and many of them were younger, Professor Wim Distelmans, chairman of the federal commission for euthanasia, told Belgian publication Humo. “Usually they are not old, but they have suffered long,” he said.

Laura told the Belgian press she had made friends with another girl in her psych ward who had died by euthanasia 18 months prior. She said she is planning her funeral. ‘Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful,” she said.

The number of Belgians who have elected assisted suicide has increased each year since the law was passed, PBS reported. Around 15 percent of the cases are younger than 60, according to Humo. In 2014, the government extended the law to terminally ill children of any age, although there are no known child cases so far.

The case of a woman who was euthanized in Brussels in 2012 was brought to the European Court of Human Rights in September of 2014 by the Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom because her son argued the doctor pushed her into the decision. If the court takes the case and rules in the son’s favor, Belgium could have to change the law.

Read More:

The Right To Die In Belgium: An Inside Look At The World’s Most Liberal Euthanasia Law (PBS)
Killing Them Softly (Vocativ)