Brussels denies EU rules encourage ‘euthanasia tourism’

The European Commission has denied that EU rules have facilitated the growth of “euthanasia tourism”, amid fears it is becoming more popular in Belgium.

There has been an increase in the number of patients travelling from EU countries where euthanasia is illegal to die in Belgium, where so-called “mercy killings” have been legal since 2002. In 2016 and 2017, 23 foreign patients were brought to Belgium to be helped to die. One unnamed French doctor even applied to come to Belgium on a regular basis with terminally ill patients.

That would not be illegal, according to Belgium’s ethics committee dealing with euthanasia, but risked doctors providing the service without understanding their legal obligations to their patients. A 2005 EU directive allows for medical qualifications to be recognised in another EU member state. Critics have blamed the law for making euthanasia tourism easier because it allows doctors accompanying a patient to another EU country to practice there.

“To my own surprise, it is legally possible to grant euthanasia as a doctor from another EU country,” said psychiatrist Paul Cosyns, a spokesman for Belgium’s Ethics Committee on euthanasia, “Foreign doctors are allowed to perform occasional medical procedures in our country, even if they can be prosecuted in their own country.” “We absolutely want to avoid creating a kind of euthanasia tourism,” he said.

Euthanasia is legal in three EU countries; Belgium, the Netherlands, where foreign patients are not accepted, and Luxembourg. Some other countries tacitly allow for passive euthanasia and suicide. Switzerland, which became infamous for its Dignitas suicide clinic, is not an EU member state.

The European Commission, which drafts EU laws, insisted that the responsibility to prevent the practice lay with national governments. It was up to them to decide whether doctors travelling abroad to perform euthanasia legally had broken the law at home. 

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