Cultural differences affecting euthanasia practice in Belgium: one law but different attitudes and practices in Flanders and Wallonia

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Sep;75(5):845-53. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.021. Epub 2012 May 17.


Since 2002, Belgium has had a national law legalising euthanasia. The law prescribes several substantive due care requirements and two procedural due care requirements, i.e. consultation with an independent physician and reporting of euthanasia to a Federal Control Committee. A large discrepancy in reporting rates between the Dutch-speaking (Flanders) and the French-speaking (Wallonia) parts of Belgium has led to speculation about cultural differences affecting the practice of euthanasia in both regions. Using Belgian data from the European Values Study conducted in 2008 among a representative sample of the general public and data from a large-scale mail questionnaire survey on euthanasia of 480 physicians from Flanders and 305 from Wallonia (conducted in 2009), this study presents empirical evidence of differences between both regions in attitudes towards and practice of euthanasia. Acceptance of euthanasia by the general population was found to be slightly higher in Flanders than in Wallonia. Compared with their Flemish counterparts, Walloon physicians held more negative attitudes towards performing euthanasia and towards the reporting obligation, less often labelled hypothetical cases correctly as euthanasia, and less often defined a case of euthanasia having to be reported. A higher proportion of Flemish physicians had received a euthanasia request since the introduction of the law. In cases of a euthanasia request, Walloon physicians consulted less often with an independent physician. Requests were more often granted in Flanders than in Wallonia (51% vs 38%), and performed euthanasia cases were more often reported (73% vs 58%). The study points out some significant differences between Flanders and Wallonia in practice, knowledge and attitudes regarding euthanasia and its legal requirements which are likely to explain the discrepancy between Wallonia and Flanders in the number of euthanasia cases reported. Cultural factors seem to play an important role in the practice of (legal) euthanasia and the extent to which legal safeguards are followed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Belgium
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Euthanasia / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires