Starting on Monday, Belgian law allows doctors to help kill patients who, during a terminal illness, express a wish to hasten their own death. Having passed the law in May, Belgium is now the third jurisdiction after the Netherlands (April 1, 2002) and the state of Oregon (1997) to legalize euthanasia.
Senator Philippe Mahoux, a Socialist, helped draft the law, which he views as "recognition" that a dying patient in "constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" should be "the only judge of their quality of life and the dignity of their last moments," ignoring the fact that palliative care has advanced to the point where such illness need no longer be accompanied by physical suffering.
Belgium's bishops tried to explain why the Catholic Church opposes the law, saying: "It is based on the idea that the value and dignity of a human being is no longer linked to the fact of his existence, but rather to his so-called 'quality of life'." In the future, patients who are very ill are certain to face pressure (from relatives and hospital staff) to view themselves as a burden that should be eliminated. Conservative opposition parties voted against the bill last May, with the Flemish Christian Democrats vowing to challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights.