Euthanasia and vulnerable groups. Belgium on a slippery slope?

In 2002, the Belgian Parliament adopted a law on euthanasia, making this medical practice legal if strict due care criteria have been met. Anno 2018, there is more than 15 years of experience with the implementation of this law. The slippery slope argument in the debate on euthanasia is by far the most common consideration presented against legalizing of euthanasia in end-of-life medical practice. The basic idea of a “slippery slope” is simple: even if the legalizing euthanasia can be a honorable answer to unbearable and endless suffering for some patients, it will surely lead to bad things, and it will be the first step on a downhill slope full of risks for abuse of such a law. In this presentation we will mainly focus on the empirical slippery slope argument, and more specifically based on Belgian data, we will explore whether supposedly vulnerable groups more frequently die from euthanasia after 15 years of experience. In short, if the Belgian experience tells us anything about the slippery slope, the available data seem to suggest that legalization of euthanasia leads to lower incidence of euthanasia in vulnerable groups as compared to the early adopters of this law, the high educated younger cancer patients.


Prof Luc Deliens has a PhD in Health Sciences and MSc in Sociology. Since 2000, he is Director of the End-of-Life Care Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel & Ghent University, in Belgium ( He is currently a professor of Palliative Care Research at the Department of Medical Oncology at Ghent University and at the Department of Family Medicine and Chronic Care at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Between 2005 and 2014 he was also Professor of Public Health and Palliative Care at the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University medical center in Amsterdam ( (link is external)) and founding chair of the Palliative Care Center of Expertise Amsterdam. He received several scientific awards and has published more than 400 papers and book chapters. His work has been supported by grants from the EU FP5 to FP7, FWO Research Foundation – Flanders, IWT the Flemish Government Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology, DWTC the Belgian Federal Ministry of Science Policy, VWS the Dutch Ministry of Public Health, ZONMW the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, the Research Fund of the VUB, King Baudouin Foundation and other leading medical and health charities. In 2009, he became the first member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium to represent palliative care and end-of-life care in the Academy. Internationally, he is the founding chair of the International Collaborative on End-of-Life Care Research (ICER), and Co-Chair of the European Association for Palliative Care research network (EAPC RN). He is advisor for many international journals, grants agencies and science foundations, e.g. the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZONMW) and German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

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