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Study finds voluntary euthanasia in Belgium complements palliative care (18 April 2008)

18 April 2008

Study finds voluntary euthanasia in Belgium complements palliative care

A new study, published in the British Medical Journal today, finds that the legislation of voluntary euthanasia in Belgium has promoted the development of palliative care.

The study, which was undertaken by the End-of-Life Care Research Group at the University of Brussels, said that supporters of legalising voluntary euthanasia and those who wish to develop palliative care services can help each other.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for assisted dying for terminally ill people in the UK, said:

“The study confirms that, in a country that already has legislation in place, assisted dying has a positive impact on palliative care provisions for the terminally ill.

“Medically assisted dying should not be seen as an alternative to palliative care, but as an option for those at the end of their lives for whom palliative care is not enough to relieve their suffering.”

The research found no evidence that legalising euthanasia resulted in harm to vulnerable patients or disabled people, or that it impeded the development of palliative care in Belgium. Furthermore, those in Belgium who advocated a voluntary euthansia law supported palliative care and did not present euthanasia as an alternative but as an option at the end of the palliative care pathway, with the patient’s preferences coming first.

Professor Jan Bernheim, who led the research for the BMJ, added:

“Belgium’s experiences highlight that, in the UK, advocates of assisted dying have every reason to promote palliative care and activists for palliative care need not oppose the option of assisted dying for those few who may choose it.”


Notes to editor

Article details:

Analysis: Development of Palliative Care and Legalisation of Euthanasia: antagonism or synergy? BMJ (18th April 2008) Volume 336 pp 864.

Jan L Bernheim, Reginald Deschepper, Wim Distelmans, Arsene Mullie, Johan Bilsen, Luc Deliens.

About Dignity in Dying:

Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that advocates assisted dying for terminally ill patients.

The organisation is also the country’s leading provider in information on end-of-life issues.
Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.

Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population support a change in the law on assisted dying.

An interview with Ashley Riley is available to download at < >.

Background information:

Belgium legalised voluntary euthanasia in 2002, and has some of the best developed provisions for palliative care, third only to Iceland and the UK
The voluntary euthanasia law passed in Belgium stated that patients asking for euthanasia had to be informed of the possibilities of palliative care and it was passed at the same time as another Act which ensured people?s right to palliative care in every hospital, nursing home and at home, while doubling its public funding.

Media contacts:

Dignity in Dying
For all media enquiries, please contact Jessica Tomlin on 020 7479 7736 or 07725 433025 or on

Professor Jan Bernheim, End-of-Life Care Research Group and Department of Human Ecology, Faculty of Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.
Tel: +32 477 726 516