The right to be forgotten

Op de High level conference on Ending Financial Discrimination Against Cancer Survivors gaf ik een speech over het Belgische beschermingsmechanisme dat ervoor zorgt dat personen die hersteld zijn van kanker of van bepaalde chronische ziekten niet meer gediscrimineerd worden wanneer ze hypotheken, leningen en verzekeringen willen aangaan. Deze Engelstalige speech kan je hieronder lezen.

Ladies and gentlemen,


People who are diagnosed with cancer go through a difficult period mentally and physically. Receiving the diagnosis is tough, the following treatment often severe, the impact on the life of patients and their families significant.  


It is especially painful when - even after recovery – the disease continues to haunt you through discrimination or unfair obstacles.

Therefore, I warmly welcome today’s conference. Unfortunately, my fellow minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne, who wanted to be here, was unable to attend at the last minute. But I ensure you that ‘The right to be forgotten’ is close to both of our hearts. And I thank Professor Meunier for the organization of today and her unwavering commitment to this cause.


Now, the good news is that cancer survival rates have increased dramatically and are expected to continue to increase. That is something to celebrate, of course. But we are here today because, even after surviving, people still face challenges, often due to suboptimal cooperation between health and social care systems and employers. Financial discrimination when seeking mortgages, loans and insurance is one concrete example.


To address this issue the Belgian parliament has introduced the “right to be forgotten” in 2019. This protection mechanism makes it possible for persons who have recovered from cancer or from certain chronic disease to facilitate access to certain insurances for a mortgage or professional credit. As already explained by Professor Meunier, in doing so, Belgium was the second country in the European Union - following France -  to provide this kind of protection to cancer survivors.


This government reinforced this protection through a law on October 30th 2022. We extended the right to be forgotten, to not only cover outstanding balance insurance but also guarantee income insurance … And to reduce the standard time frame for cancer conditions. As such, the time frame has in the meantime been reduced from 10 to 8 years, and even to 5 years for people under 21 years old. And, in January 2025, this standard time period will be reduced to 5 years for everybody.

And there is a number of cancers for which the timeframe is even shorter.


Our legislation has the specificity that we act on the proposal of the Federal Centre of Expertise for Health Care (KCE). The government defines — and adapts — the applicable deadlines, in a flexible manner, through reference grids.

These grids are based on proposals made by the KCE.


This is another advantage of our legislation: it provides that the reference grids are regularly re-evaluated in order to keep pace with changes in medical progress and available scientific data.  And it empowers the government to translate this scientific evidence into binding standards.


Because politics and science walk together! This is how, in legislating, the Belgian authorities have chosen to enshrine this partnership.


These grids make it possible to determine precisely under which conditions a person who has been cured of cancer or suffering from a chronic disease can access insurance without additional premiums or – even worse - exclusions. The Centre is responsible for re-evaluating them every two years, based on medical progress and available scientific data. For example, the next studies are on type 1 diabetes, thyroid cancer, stage I melanoma and HIV. Marijke Eyssens from KCE who is here can give you more details.


On this basis the government is able, without having to activate the parliamentary procedure, to follow the scientific evidence as closely as possible, in order to impose objective limits on the insurance sector.



Professor Meunier already explained that for the people concerned, these measures have an important impact on their overall quality of life. This is especially true for young adult survivors. Much like any other person of their age, many of them seek financial services to buy a place they can call their home. To simply live their lives.


But let’s be clear: this is not about compassion. It is about scientific evidence. With cancer, we can speak of complete recovery, we are at a point where many cancers can be cured in that sense. In many cases, scientific data can show clearly that there is no reason to treat someone who has recovered from cancer differently than anyone else. So, when an oncologist tells a patient that he or she is cured and therefore no longer needs intensive follow-ups and tests, why should a financial institution make the difference? 

I can thus only encourage to apply justice to cancer survivors.

Fair access for cancer survivors to financial services is also addressed in the Europe’s Beating Cancer plan. The road map foresees the development of a code of conduct on the “right to be forgotten” to be published in March as well as a reflection on long-term solutions.

We encourage the European Commission and the different stakeholders involved to continue their work in this area: on short-term on the code of conduct, but certainly also on the development of a legal framework that will protect cancer survivors from financial discrimination in and across the European Union. In doing so, we can build on the successful lessons learned from a number of Member States. In that spirit, Belgium stands ready to contribute by sharing our best practices.




To conclude I highlight the importance of the Europe’s Beating Cancer plan and the importance of continuing its implementation under the term of the next commission.


The Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is not only about cancer. Cancer is an area where many innovative policies are being initiated and tested before being rolled out in other disease areas. Cancer policies can pave the way for other non-communicable diseases. This is true for treatment, but also for prevention and certainly for the right to be forgotten.


Step by step, we can and must contribute to a fairer and more equitable society in which it is possible to rebuild a life after battling a severe illness.


For this reason we are very happy to have this conference today. I wish everybody a successful event.


Thank you for your attention.