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Eur J Public Health. 2012 Feb;22(1):19-26. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckq180. Epub 2010 Dec 3.

The labelling and reporting of euthanasia by Belgian physicians: a study of hypothetical cases.

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End-of-Life Care Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.



Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002. Physicians must report each euthanasia case to the Federal Control and Evaluation Committee. This study examines which end-of-life decisions (ELDs) Belgian physicians label 'euthanasia', which ELDs they think should be reported and the physician characteristics associated with correct labelling of euthanasia cases, the awareness that they should be reported and the reporting of them.


Five hypothetical cases of ELDs: intensified pain alleviation, palliative/terminal sedation, euthanasia with neuromuscular relaxants, euthanasia with morphine and life-ending without patient request were presented in a cross-sectional survey of 914 physicians in Belgium in 2009.


About 19% of physicians did not label a euthanasia case with neuromuscular relaxants 'euthanasia', 27% did not know that it should be reported. Most physicians labelled a euthanasia case with morphine 'intensification of pain and symptom treatment' (39%) or 'palliative/terminal sedation' (37%); 21% of physicians labelled this case 'euthanasia'. Cases describing other ELDs were sometimes also labelled 'euthanasia'. Factors associated with a higher likelihood of labelling a euthanasia case correctly were: living in Flanders, being informed about the euthanasia law and having a positive attitude towards societal control over euthanasia. Whether a physician correctly labelled the euthanasia cases strongly determined their reporting knowledge and intentions.


There is no consensus among physicians about the labelling of euthanasia and other ELDs, and about which cases must be reported. Mislabelling of ELDs could impede societal control over euthanasia. The provision of better information to physicians appears to be necessary.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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