Belgium's euthanasia law, introduced in 2002, allows foreigners to submit a request to end their life in the country. This uniqueness attracts patients from neighbouring countries, including many from France.
In 2022, over 70 French people crossed the border to die in Belgium. But the decision does not come without conditions.
Sabine has suffered from chronic arthritis since the age of five. After two cardiac arrests, respiratory distress, continuous severe pain and the doses of morphine that go with it, she decided to die at the age of 56.
Living on the outskirts of Lille, her request was accepted thanks to the help of a group of retired doctors. In the coming weeks, Sabine will pass away in Belgium on a date of her choosing.
"I have regained control of my life. I chose how it would end. I'd rather go out with dignity, in peace and quiet, surrounded by my loved ones, than in hospital," she told Witness.
Like Sabine, 71 French people have already travelled to Belgium to die this year.
Foreign patients remain a minority and do not overburden the relevant departments. However, requests for euthanasia are on the rise.
'We must remember that there are conditions'
However, doctors and hospitals are having to filter requests based on their merit. Jacqueline Herremans is the president of the Association pour le Droit de Mourir dans la Dignité (Association for the Right to Die with Dignity). She points to an overly permissive image being disseminated abroad.
"Because of the caricature that is made of it in France, some French people think that it's enough to come to Belgium, ask for euthanasia and obtain it, whereas even if our law is flexible, we must remember that there are conditions," Jacqueline explained.
In order to obtain euthanasia, Belgian law specifies three important conditions: the request must be voluntary, considered and repeated, the patient must be experiencing unbearable suffering, and the suffering must be the result of an incurable and serious illness.
Euthanasia 'a possibility for the patient, not a right'
Two different doctors must verify that these criteria are met. Marc Decroly, a general practitioner in Brussels, points out that euthanasia is "a possibility for the patient, not a right. It is a possibility for the doctor, not a duty."
In the European Union, Belgium and the Netherlands were the first countries to authorise euthanasia in 2002. They were subsequently joined by Luxembourg in 2009, Spain in 2021 and Portugal in 2023. In France, consideration of the end-of-life bill has been postponed until 2024.