DeMens.nu, the umbrella organisation of Humanist member associations in Flanders and Brussels, has created the world’s first University Chair for the ‘Dignified End-of-life’. The new chair is part of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). It will address all the issues surrounding the end of life, without prejudice against options such as euthanasia.
Respect for self-determination is a central value for deMens.nu (formerly known as the Unie Vrijzinnige Verenigingen). This respect for individuals’ life choices extends to their decisions at the end of their lives. Yet, before now, there has never been a university chair devoted to studying and respecting the rights of terminally ill people throughout the course of their illness.
Research by VUB reveals that almost half of the deaths in Flanders are preceded by a decision which may influence the moment of death, including choices about treatment, palliative sedation or euthanasia. Unfortunately, these decisions are often taken unilaterally by the attending doctors.
Wim Distelmans, professor of palliative medicine at the VUB and first holder of the chair for ‘Dignified End-of-life’, stresses the importance of coordination in care and decision-making about the end-of-life: “With this chair we wish to ensure the population and caregivers are fully informed about all possible options. At the same time we will invest in further research.” Together with deMens.nu, Wim Distelmans also works with networks dedicated to a dignified end-of-life.
For deMens.nu, financing the chair is a logical complement to its core business: the development and extension of Humanist service. At their Humanist centres (huizenvandeMens or homeofthePeople) anybody with a problem can find a sympathetic ear. In addition, people with questions about a dignified end-of-life can consult with Humanist counselors. Services available in the Humanist centres include advice and assistance for people drawing up euthanasia directives for themselves.
Belgium is the only country in the world with a detailed law on the end-of-life. In fact it has a rights-of-patients law, a palliative care law and a euthanasia law. With this new Chair for the Dignified End-of-life Belgium remains true to its pioneering role.