Objectives: To study the reported medical practice of euthanasia in Belgium since implementation of the euthanasia law.
Research design: Analysis of the anonymous database of all euthanasia cases reported to the Federal Control and Evaluation Committee Euthanasia.
Subjects: All euthanasia cases reported by physicians for review between implementation of the euthanasia law on September 22nd, 2002 and December 31, 2007 (n = 1917).
Measures: Frequency of reported euthanasia cases, characteristics of patients and the decision for euthanasia, drugs used in euthanasia cases, and trends in reported cases over time.
Results: The number of reported euthanasia cases increased every year from 0.23% of all deaths in 2002 to 0.49% in 2007. Compared with all deaths in the population, patients who died by euthanasia were more often younger (82.1% of patients who received euthanasia compared with 49.8% of all deaths were younger than 80, P < 0.001), men (52.7% vs. 49.5%, P = 0.005), cancer patients (82.5% vs. 23.5%, P < 0.001), and more often died at home (42.2% vs. 22.4%, P < 0.001). Euthanasia was most often performed with a barbiturate, sometimes in combination with neuromuscular relaxants (92.4%) and seldom with morphine (0.9%). In almost all patients, unbearable physical (95.6%) and/or psychological suffering (68%) were reported. A small minority of cases (6.6%) concerned nonterminal patients, mainly suffering from neuromuscular diseases.
Conclusions: The frequency of reported euthanasia cases has increased every year since legalization. Euthanasia is most often chosen as a last resort at the end of life by younger patients, patients with cancer, and seldom by nonterminal patients.