Education or nudging? The 1961-1983 euthanasia press review of the Belgian Association pour le Droit de Mourir dans la Dignité

Activiteit: Talk or presentation at a conference


End-of-life issues have been present and the object of heated debates in Belgian printed press since the 1920s.1 These include examples from outlets of all the major political groups, with opposition and support for euthanasia as it was then understood, to be found in the groups one would expect, i.e. Catholic opposition and (to some extent) Socialist and Liberalist support. Yet, before the 1960s, the treatment of this subject was usually related to foreign developments (of the British Voluntary Euthanasia Society, the Euthanasia Society of America, and the Nuremberg trials). We have argued that this might be related to openness for more contentious subjects in the foreign sections of newspapers, as opposed to the ones treating domestic issues.
As of the 1960s, modernist views related to freedom of choice arguments came to occupy a strong position in questions in medical ethics, abortion debates being currently the most thoroughly researched example in Belgian history. This argument of course extended to end-of-life decision-making processes as well. Added to this were developments in the Belgian penal code, which to a degree paved the way for depenalisation initiatives and euthanasia advocacy. The first proposals of law and advocacy groups only emerged in the 1980s.2 This happened in the form of the Association pour le Droit de Mourir dans La Dignité (ADMD) and Rechts Op Waardig Sterven (RWS).
For this paper, we examine the conceptualization, contents, and dispersal of a 1983 press review published by the ADMD. The main question here is if and how this document was used as a tool for opinion-making and agenda setting. In a time where ideological affiliations of mainstream newspapers and other periodicals became exceedingly less obvious, this press review cannot just be seen as an educational tool for the general Belgian population. It was presented as such by the advocacy group, but taking this at face value would be proof of insufficient historical scrutiny. The source material of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, of which the ADMD was a member, clearly proves that the Belgian advocacy groups were among those that leaned closest to advocating the right to self-termination, especially in the early years of their existence. As they presented themselves as pluralist in nature, the press review in question can shed light on the ideological agendas at work within these ADMD. What articles were selected or withheld? Which subjects are included and how are these treated? Since the collection concerns cutouts from newspapers between 1962 and 1983, we also analyse the ideological identifications of the newspapers involved. We have proven in earlier work that although these identifications moved slowly to the background in the postwar period, the position taken on euthanasia as a personal choice was still closely tied to the newspaper’s initial identifier. Given the nature of political debates in the 1980s and 1990s, this most likely extends well beyond the 1950s. As such, potential inclusion of Catholic newspapers and the framing of these clippings along with those of a more secular nature, no doubt adds to the debate as to whether the road to the depenalisation of euthanasia on the legislation of patient rights in Belgium can be seen as an example of the Belgian consensus or pacification democracy or indeed not that at all.
Periode4 okt 2024
EvenementstitelDemocratic Belgian discord? Diversity of political opinion in the press
LocatieEupen, Belgium
Mate van erkenningNational