Brussels — a Final Destination for Medical Care

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Grande Place, Grote Markt, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels is now a destination for medical tourism. Unfamiliar with the term? According to the CDC , "medical tourism" refers to foreign travel for the purpose of receiving medical care. It's estimated that up to 750,000 US residents travel abroad for medical care each year....The most common procedures that people undergo on medical tourism trips include cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and heart surgery.”

The London Times reported that French citizens are now traveling to Brussels for one of Belgium’s unique services – euthanasia. In the European Union (EU), there are a range of national health care plans and insurances; but if a service is not available in your home country you can travel to another EU country and get that care or service.  

Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002 but assessment of a patient’s maturity is required in order to make this decision.  According to the London Times, “Before a lethal injection can be given, the doctor and patient must agree that the level of suffering is constant and unbearable and cannot be alleviated. The request must be voluntary, assessed over a reasonable period of time, usually a matter of weeks and carried out with the agreement of a second doctor.”  The medical procedure is usually free in Belgium and is covered by the French healthcare system, but the same medical procedure costs 4,000 euros in Switzerland.

In a somewhat related article, Newsweek reported that a convicted serial killer had been granted a date for euthanasia claiming  “a lack of therapy provided for his condition in Belgium. He argued he had no prospect of release since he could not overcome his violent sexual impulses, and wanted to die in order to end his mental anguish.”  

Belgium now includes suffering “unbearable mental pain” as a legal reason for euthanasia. Euthanasia is an ethical dilemma for both the individual seeking and providing this service.  

Calling it "care" makes me feel uneasy.  In the United States, it is felt to be cruel and unusual punishment and perhaps rightly so.  I bring these articles to your attention for the paradoxes they illuminate: In the US, we have a death penalty, but euthanasia is illegal. In the EU, they have euthanasia, but the death penalty is illegal. Death by lethal injection in the United States is felt to be cruel and unusual punishment and perhaps rightly so. In Belgium, it is compassionate care. How did that come to pass? Just asking. Thanks to Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution for pointing out the articles.