Upon administering a lethal dose, the doctor left the room. But the patient was not dying. For Sophie Druenne, a palliative care nurse working under the Belgian physician who had approved the euthanasia request, this was a breaking point.

“The situation was so absurd that we were laughing,” Sophie told me at the start of our interview. “We had to call the practitioner back to tell him that the patient was still alive and that we had to give him an additional injection. And I caught myself laughing in the course of protecting myself from what was happening.”

 Recounting the story to her friends and family outside the hospital, Sophie realized the horror of this situation and began to question Belgium’s so-called social experiment with euthanasia. Legalized in 2002, euthanasia was decriminalized under certain conditions. Its scope continues to widen, with the inclusion of minors in 2016, and now lawmakers debate broadening that scope to include psychiatric patients. It wasn’t these laws, however, that changed Sophie’s opinion toward her country’s euthanasia policies, but working in Belgium’s integrated palliative care system.

Palliative care is medical aid that treats symptoms of a typically serious disease rather than the disease itself, which sometimes cannot be treated or not easily. Integrated palliative care (IPC) subsumes traditional palliative care within Belgium’s 21st century euthanasia framework. In this new model of care for the dying, physicians and nurses are trained to discuss euthanasia as the last medical option with their patients. Proponents of IPC describe it as a “reconciliation.”

Historically, palliative care was defined by the anti-euthanasia beliefs of its founder, Cicely Saunders, a British nurse who developed a holistic method of caring for the dying in the 1940s. Witnessing the rise of effective pain management strategies and drugs during her lifetime, she believed that a patient’s request for euthanasia represented a failure to adequately care for the patient’s spiritual, emotional, and social needs.

 

Read more at The Federalist. 

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