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Luxembourg is to allow euthanasia from 1 April

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1248 (Published 24 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1248
  1. Rory Watson
  1. 1Brussels

    Luxembourg has become the third European country, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to legalise euthanasia in certain cases. The new legislation, which is accompanied by a parallel text on palliative care, will enter into force on 1 April.

    The law stipulates that doctors who carry out euthanasia and assisted suicides will not face “penal sanctions” or civil lawsuits as long as they first consult a colleague to ensure that the patient has a terminal illness, is in a “grave and incurable condition,” and has repeatedly asked for the right to die.

    Within eight days of helping a patient to end his or her life, the doctor must fill out a questionnaire and submit it to a national committee of nine members, who will verify whether the various procedures were correctly followed.

    Unlike the Netherlands, which formally approved euthanasia in 2001, and Belgium, which did so a year later, in Luxembourg the legislation was not introduced by the government. Indeed, the Christian Socialist party, the dominant partner in the governing coalition, was strongly opposed.

    Instead the bill was championed by a Socialist MP, Lydie Err, and a Green party deputy, Jean Huss, who had first tabled the draft legislation seven years ago. Mr Huss, who began to support euthanasia after seeing an uncle die in terrible pain several years ago, explained that the move is designed to remove some of the secrecy from the sensitive issue.

    He said, “People would ask me how we could help them and whether we had any addresses in the Netherlands or Switzerland, for instance. Luxembourgers would go abroad, and euthanasia was also practised in secret. We considered that an intolerable situation. We wanted a law that would make everything transparent and give people the freedom of choice.”

    Although the law was passed by only a handful of votes in the 60 member parliament, opinion polls showed that it was supported by over 70% of the population. It also provoked one of the most heated political debates in the Grand Duchy’s history, as the Catholic church mounted an aggressive campaign against the legislation, while the country’s young people largely supported the initiative.

    It even led to a change in the national constitution after Grand Duke Henri refused to sign the bill into law. To remove the obstacle the Luxembourg parliament voted an amendment to the constitution that reduced the monarch’s power to a largely ceremonial role.

    The Luxembourg legislation draws heavily on Belgium’s experience. Belgium’s Euthanasia Commission, which publishes a report every two years (the next will be in 2010), says that the procedures there are working well. The most recent statistics show that Belgium had 429 cases of assisted suicide in 2006. Of these, 340 occurred in the northern Dutch speaking part of the country and 89 in the southern Francophone region. The deaths were fairly evenly split between men (231) and women (198). Most were in the 60-79 age group (224) and the 40-59 group (114).

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1248

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