Sigrid Dierickx received her PhD recently in Ghent, Belgium (End-of-Life Care research Group). Her dissertation called Euthanasia practice in Belgium, a population-based evaluation of trends and currently debated issues can be read and downloaded here in PDF format.
The aim of the dissertation was to provide population-based evidence on general trends in euthanasia practice in Belgium and on particular current issues being debated regarding euthanasia.
Four research questions dealt with trends in euthanasia practice, three considered current debates regarding euthanasia practice, such as “to what extent are palliative care services involved in the care of people requesting euthanasia, and in the decision-making and performance of euthanasia?”
A key finding is that the incidence of euthanasia and the absolute number of euthanasia cases have increased continuously in Belgium. This increase in euthanasia is linked to increases in both the number of euthanasia requests expressed and the proportion of requests that is granted. In recent years, we observed an expansion towards a broader euthanasia practice in Belgium, also including persons diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and older persons, particularly those with dementia and multi-morbidity. While euthanasia for terminally ill persons seems to be widely accepted in Belgium, the debate has moved towards the option of euthanasia for other specific patient populations.
The substantial growth of euthanasia in general, the expansion of euthanasia practice towards patient groups that were not the target audience when the law was voted, and the expansion of the euthanasia law in 2014 to include competent minors, are frequently interpreted as proof of the slippery slope hypothesis. Considering that the slippery slope can be regarded as a container term for a number of possible consequences of euthanasia legalisation, questions can be raised whether use of the term does not stand in the way of nuanced debate.