Byline: Simon Caldwell
A HIGH proportion of deaths classified as 'euthanasia' in Belgium involved patients who did not ask to have their lives ended, a study has found.
A fifth of nurses interviewed said they had been involved in the euthanasia of a patient, but nearly half of these - 120 of 248 - also admitted to taking part in 'terminations [of patients' lives] without request or consent'.
The practice, known as 'involuntary euthanasia', is against the law in Belgium, although 'voluntary euthanasia' has been permitted there for the last eight years.
Euthanasia now accounts for 2 per cent of all deaths in Belgium. When it legalised the practice, politicians insisted that patients had to consent and stipulated that doctors were the only people allowed to administer lethal drugs.
The new study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, shows that safeguards introduced with the legislation are routinely flouted to allow involuntary euthanasia and the administration of fatal drugs by nurses.
'By administering the life-ending drugs in some of the cases of euthanasia, and in almost half of the cases without an explicit request from the patient, the nurses in our study operated beyond the legal margins of their profession,' wrote the authors. Furthermore, the researchers say they believe the number of nurses involved in involuntary euthanasia is in fact higher than their study suggests. They say it is likely that many nurses under-reported their involvement because they did not wish to admit breaking the law. In the study the …