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April 14, 2024

Belgium’s Cutting-Edge Debate

In Belgium this week, the Chairman of the health fund, Christian Mutual, Luc Van Gorp, has said that those who feel that their life is complete, should be able to end it.

In an interview with the Belgian newspaper, Nieuwsblad, Luc Van Gorp said that he wants people at the end of their lives to be able to indicate that their lives are completed, even when there is no unbearable suffering

In this way, Van Gorp wants to have an open debate around ageing and quality of life in the elderly. “We need to remove the stigma between life and death,” he says.

These are striking statements Van Gorp makes to the Nieuwsblad, especially as chairman of a Christian organisation.

But according to the chairman, death is far too often dealt with frenetically, and an open debate should be possible.

Survey Results

The chairman’s statements fit within a recent study on the health profile of older Christian Mutual members.

This shows that ageing in particular will be a major challenge in the future.

By 2050, the number of over-80s will double, the study states.

That’s an increase from 640,000 over-80s today to 1.2 million in 25 years.

“I can hardly believe it. This growth is enormous,” Van Gorp told VRT NWS.

Quality of Life

“I have never understood why we always debate the quantity of life. We want people to get as old as possible, we do everything for that. But we never ask ourselves how quantity relates to quality of life.”

We must allow people to indicate that it has been good.

“This debate needs to be high on the political agenda,” Van Gorp stressed.

“As a society, we are going to have to consider how to organise this care in the future, knowing that labour is already short today.”

“How are we going to prepare for that? Not by building residential care centres en masse if they will not contribute to quality of life.

If we are not going to be able to bear the mass of people who need care, how are we going to engage with them?”

Giving life back

But even if there is no unbearable suffering or poor quality of life, people who are tired of life should have the freedom to end their lives, Van Gorp said.

“What if the quality of care is perfect, but the person still does not experience quality of life? What do you do then, if there are still people who indicate that life has been enough for them?” asks Van Gorp.

“Then you have to give life back,” he says. “I often refer to radio presenter Lutgart Simoens, who at one point said: ‘It has been good for me’, in the positive sense of the word.”

Completed life need not be a negative concept if it is discussed in a safe way, but today we are still too afraid to talk about it.

According to Van Gorp, there needs to be a change in mentality.

“We need to remove the stigma between life and death. Not by harsh euthanasia, because that puts people off. But by allowing people to indicate that it has been good.”

And we urgently need to have that debate with all of society, not just the healthcare sector, according to Van Gorp.

“Because to be clear: this is not a medical debate. Completed life does not have to be a negative concept if it is discussed in a safe way, but today we are often still too afraid to talk about it,” he says.

Tired of Life

According to Van Gorp, many people in need of care are stuck with the fear that they will be abandoned. “We also see this in the figures: 10 per cent of elderly people struggle with depression or complaints of life fatigue.”

This is precisely why he calls for more investment in quality living.

“Because if you can’t create a quality environment, you get the question: do I still want to be here?

It’s a terrible tragedy to have to live at a time when you don’t want to.”

I am not at all an advocate for euthanasia an such

“Do we want to use ‘quality of life’ as the norm, instead of ‘quantity of life’? That is the question.

It’s about a choice between linear and circular thinking. That is the debate we need to have today if we are to have a new model of society within 25 years.”

“Not an advocate for euthanasia an such”

But not everyone is satisfied with the CM president’s statements.

Joachim Coens, ex-chairman of the CD&V and current mayor of the West Flemish town of Damme, has responded strongly.

“To advocate that those who are tired of life should be able to get out of it? Is this then the society we want to become?

A disposable culture in this area too?

In the first place, does it not just come down to helping those people instead of advocating shortcuts?”

“I am not at all an advocate for euthanasia an such,” Van Gorp responds to Coens.

“I do advocate quality of life, including for people in need of care.

We need to invest more in quality of life.

This is a wake-up call for me, the CM, politicians, policymakers and umbrella organisations.”